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Why Everyone is Piling on Marty's 'Wolf of Wall Street'

by Anne Thompson
December 31, 2013 2:36 PM
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Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Memes can kill you. That's never been more true as social media spread messages like kudzu, with lasting effects. Last year the Oscar contender that started off strong with critics' kudos and skidded as the internet took up the torture controversy was "Zero Dark Thirty," which wound up an also-ran on Oscar night. The controversy worked to send people theaters, though: the movie wound up at $95 million domestic.

This year's meme casualty? Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street." On the one hand, distributor Paramount and global financier Red Granite are poring over the box office numbers (it's earned $34 million since Christmas Day) to see if they can pull out ahead of the film's $100-million-plus budget. That's the first priority. But the second order of business is the film's Oscar campaign, which is in danger of derailing. 

Martin Scorsese

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and support Scorsese's right to make criminal behavior entertaining. After all, he's been doing it his entire career. So why is everyone piling on him now? The answer: traffic. Many of the headlines and reviews for the late-breaking contender are focusing on its glorification of its real-life anti-hero Jordan Belfort (played with memorable brio by Leonardo DiCaprio). His late-inning offer to give his film royalties to charity hasn't done much to quiet his many detractors. One widely circulated report on the L.A. Academy screening focused on one angry member who accosted Scorsese and his posse coming out of the elevator, saying, "Shame on you!"

Particularly damning is Time critic Richard Corliss's thoughtful breakdown of the movie's faults and Scorsese's repetitive narratives through his films. Like much coverage of "The Wolf of Wall Street," Corliss's review spends as much time on Belfort's criminal exploits as the movie. 

The argument for dramatizing Belfort’s saga so exhaustively exhausting is that it’s true. As Hill and other members of the WoWS team attests, this stuff really happened. One might ask if they should take as gospel the word of a man whose business M.O. was lying to stockholders. Either way, Belfort’s confession, of all that sex and all those drugs on his own Long Island Speedway, sounds more like a boast, as if to say that those horrible things he did to others and himself were pretty freakin’ cool. No question, he was a charismatic charlatan; his gift of gab is the seductive spiel of a cult leader. And Scorsese seems to be a believer in Belfort, an acolyte who swallowed the Kool-Aid.

Jordan Belfort is played by DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Also inflicting damage is an LA Weekly open letter to the makers of "Wolf of Wall Street" from the daughter of one of Belfort's cronies, Tom Prousalis, who went to jail. (Clearly, she is promoting her own agenda: an upcoming memoir.) In the old days, many would be unaware of this story, which has made the rounds with lightning speed via Twitter:

So here's the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees. And yet you're glorifying it -- you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men. 

As "The Wolf of Wall Street" is the highest-profile new movie to come out, it's fresh fodder, and stories about the film tend to lead with the Belfort glorification controversy. (Yes, that's how you draw traffic.) So DiCaprio has been forced to go on the defensive in awards-directed interviews for In ContentionTHR and Variety, below:

"This film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior, that we’re indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you’ll realize what we’re saying about these people and this world, because it’s an intoxicating one. I think it’s amazing somebody like Martin Scorsese is still making films that are vital and talked about, and have an element of controversy about them and are appealing to people of my generation. We grew up watching his films and he’s still making stuff that’s punk rock. It’s an amazing achievement.”

And Scorsese has chimed in. Thus instead of the usual round of back-slapping soft awards features reminding Oscar voters of what they should admire, the controversy is front and center. And DiCaprio's own Oscar chances are at stake. DiCaprio is no stranger to the Academy Awards--he's been nominated three times--but he's never won. I remember waiting with him at the valet at the 1995 Oscars after he lost for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" He was nominated again a decade later for Scorsese's "The Aviator" and again for "Blood Diamond." For "The Wolf of Wall Street," DiCaprio earned his career best reviews, even better than the movie, for his unexpectedly hilarious and commanding star turn, which was more dazzling than his other big performance this year in the title role of "The Great Gatsby" (which could have easily gone south, as it did for Robert Redford). DiCaprio is long overdue and deserves a shot.

But at this rate breaking into the crowded Best Actor field would be a feat indeed: DiCaprio may have to settle for likely comedy wins from the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice Awards.


  • Tom Sussexe | January 14, 2014 12:34 PMReply

    The Wolf of Wall Street is hands down the movie of the decade! It is filled with fun, over-the-top characters, and has an upbeat tone unlike so many of today's brooding, moralizing movies. Better yet the characters are real people still living - people who lived these amazing lives, lived to tell about it, and now are back on top! The great irony is that many in Hollywood are condemning the decadent (I call it fun) lifestyles portrayed in the movie. If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black I don't know what is. In short, WoW is a fun ride. I highly recommend checking it out. I have four times already and can't wait to buy it on Blu-Ray.

  • Wade | January 10, 2014 10:38 PMReply

    Simply put this movie was just stupid.
    It's just another case of Hollywood needing to get over itself. Calling this tripe oscar worthy is amazing.
    Same thing with American Hustle! If these are what critics think are good movies then it's a sad indictment of the industry.

  • Tom Sussexe | January 14, 2014 12:37 PM

    Wade, rather than just criticize the amazing movie The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, tell us what you would recommend, and why we should see your picks.

  • Rosie | January 7, 2014 5:21 PMReply

    I keep forgetting that when it comes to sex, Americans be very touchy. Even in the early 21st century. If Belfort's story had been told with the class, style and restraint that was ABSENT in his life as a stockbroker, many wouldn't be bitching about the movie.

  • Oliver | January 4, 2014 8:24 AMReply

    The immorality [of 'The Godfather'] lies in the presentation of murderers as delightful family men -- the criminal is the salt of the earth -- and to our shame we rub it into the wounds of our Watergate-world mortality and even ask for more."
    -- Judith Crist, 1974

    The more censors and moralisers change, the more they stay the same...

  • Oliver | January 2, 2014 5:58 PMReply

    "You people are dangerous."

    Hey, Ms. Daughter of a Scumbag, the ghost of Joe McCarthy called -- he wants his paranoid-demagogue vendetta against Hollywood and rabble-rousing attempts to control what kind of movies we can see back.

  • GRAINY | January 3, 2014 2:09 PM

    So people REJECTING Hollywood's propaganda (pro-Wall Street propaganda, no less) is the same as the Red Scare? No one ever said PR trolls made logical sense...

  • GRANNY | January 3, 2014 2:04 PM

    lol, really? Hollywood is not rebelling against the establishment. Hollywood IS the establishment.

  • villedeville | January 2, 2014 12:40 PMReply

    And who are Belfort's victims: innocent (or ignorant?) small-time 'investors' who were conned by the promise of becoming rich as Belfort was? We have seen this happen so may times in such investments like pyramid or insurance schemes. Is it not also their fault that they aspired to achieve riches without any hard and honest effort? Their only problem is that they did not get rich like Belfort did. Belfort wouldn't be the last con artist and his victims wouldn't be the last to be scammed. This movie did not glorify Belfort's exploits, it gives insight on how one could, or couldn't, be exploited by someone like him.

  • JoeS | January 1, 2014 6:53 PMReply

    What Ms.Thompson and so many of the cheerleaders for WOLF fail to acknowledge is that many, many of us "Get" the movie. We just don't think that Scorsese et. al. did a very good job of it.

    Instead of accepting that difference of opinion us skeptics are accused of being "stupid", "prudish", "clueless" or "too lazy to sit through a 3 hour movie".

    Just because a film has aspirations that one can recognize, doesn't mean that the filmmaker SUCCEEDED in delivering on those aspirations.

  • mx | January 8, 2014 2:00 AM

    I concur. i loved Goodfellas and watched it one day five times straight. Thought Casino was mediocre and thought this "movie" was atrocious. It's easily one of the worst Scorcese movies ever. (Yes I've seen Boxcar Bertha.) This was a movie with no point--and the filmakers failed to see the irony of spending $150 mil and $20 mil in Leo's salary and $10 mil on the director to create a movie about excess and greed in a world of waste, garbage and garbage men...

  • galadriel | January 1, 2014 11:28 AMReply

    Yeah, it's all about "traffic", not the fact that people are incensed about glorifying the scumbags who are ruining our country. Why doesn't Scorsese make a movie about likeable and charming politicians, next? I'm sure it's coming, maybe not by Scorsese, but someone. The amount of sheer denial involved in making excuses for the film is amazing.

  • steve barr | January 1, 2014 2:00 AMReply

    This just in . Wolf of Wall Street has become the film with the largest amount of F-words in the history of film with 506 , add to that 422 from Casino , 300 from Goodfellas and 257 from The Departed . Congrats Marty .

  • Tom Sussexe | January 14, 2014 12:39 PM

    LOL! Awesome! Yet another reason to go see this amazing movie! F*ck yeah!

  • Rosie | January 7, 2014 5:24 PM

    Are you really that uncomfortable with the idea of corrupt stockbrokers using the money they gained for sex and drugs that you had to make a statement about how many times the F-word was used in the film?

  • MookieNY | January 1, 2014 4:19 PM

    If people are interested in politics they should spend their time looking into the pathetic situation our country finds itself in and do something about it. If people are interested in the corruption of Wall St. they should be protesting in front of the white house. But to overly politicize this movie which, after all, is tying to entertain first and foremost, and perhaps shine a light on what awful behavior human beings are capable of, is misguided. I didn't think the movie glorified these guys at all, nor did it condone their horribly misogynistic attitudes. It did the opposite...made them look like the narcissistic, greedy, scumbag, con artists they apparently were. And let's not forget, they made their money by telling people a story that made them think they were going to get rich doing nothing. Without the greed of their investor "victims" none of this would have been possible. If there's a lesson here for the audience maybe it's to hang up the phone when someone cold calls with a money making scheme that sounds too good to be true.

  • cadavra | December 31, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    I'm so damn sick of this "three-hours-long" crap. Did anyone complain about the running time of TITANIC? Or AVATAR? Or any of the five Tolkien movies? Or the first two GODFATHERS? Or DANCES WITH WOLVES? Or such vintage classics as GONE WITH THE WIND, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN-HUR, MY FAIR LADY, SPARTACUS or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA? Seriously, people, grow the f--- up.

  • jiii | January 1, 2014 11:55 PM

    good one! I agree. And wolf has such a good tempo that it didn't feel like 3 hours at all.
    Some people are so ridiculous, "oh no 3 hours!!" what a drama! diiferent lenghts of movies a great, people have to experiment more and more with time and narrative, it's much more interesting.

  • JoeS | January 1, 2014 6:49 PM

    YES, many folks complained when they didn't like some of those movies!

  • Diane | December 31, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    Leonardo Di Caprio absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as Jordan Belfort. I hated all the characters in this film, even Kyle Chandler's FBI agent to a certain extent. But why did I want to see what happened to them all? Great storytelling. Fantastic visuals in this film as well. How cool were the feathers flying everywhere when Belfort tore apart his sofa looking for his stash of cocaine? The characters were not being glorified, they were just being exposed.

  • baba | January 2, 2014 12:04 AM

    I think there was something so hypnotising about the film that some viewers forgit they were watching a film. maybe those critics should point their fingers at the people responsable for their errors and not artist who put a light on it.

  • berty | January 2, 2014 12:00 AM

    very good statement!!!! exposed is the right word. they just show them as they are. what about all those blockbusters, explosions, killings, guns etc, people don't seem to critize that so why critizise a movie that is so well crafted and obvioulsy a great film? I'm sure Dicaprio will get an oscar. And if martin scorsese doesn't get one, then I don't know what kind of filmaking hollywood wants anymore.

  • aoweifanfo | January 1, 2014 2:09 AM

    Well you technically can't appreciate his work as an actor because this role filters into our collective consciousness and makes men believe that his actions were acceptable because, like young children, men are easily led by images of power and especially sexual power. Didn't you read this lady's indictment of this film? Her words are heavy with the weight of political correctness and thus carry the word of god! jk.

  • Brian | December 31, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    Jordan Belfort has said he'll use every cent he earns from his book and movie to pay back his victims. When I hear a news report that they've received full restitution, then I'll go see this movie. But not until then.
    The difference between this and GOODFELLAS is that Henry Hill and company all received their comeuppance before the movie came out. We KNOW they suffered for their crimes and were prevented from committing any more (other than, in Henry's case, a few petty ones which he was punished for).

  • Taiwon | January 1, 2014 11:30 AM

    It's not just about Belfort's actual victims, but a systematic victimization of the American public, and indeed, the world. They've got an awful lot of nerve to try to push this movie on us, is all I can say about it.

  • POL | December 31, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    People who unquestionably buy into the system can't see that the film challenges the legitimacy of the entire undertaking. A system that lets these scum profit millions -- billions -- even trillions is rotten to the core and illegitimate. The system was rigged by people like Belfort and his lawyers, and he's a relatively minor player. The black comedy highlights the fact of how undeserving these parasites are. This is one of the most political American films to come out in years, and is, of course, misunderstood.

  • tai | January 1, 2014 12:02 PM

    In 2013, people don't "misunderstand" propaganda, they ingest it.

  • steve barr | December 31, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    I'm sorry i can't feel sorry for Marty . He's spent his career making boring ,bloated movies about scumbags . I guess the chickens have finally come home to roost . I didn't realize that St. Marty was above criticism .

  • you got it | January 2, 2014 12:26 AM

    What's interesting in cinema is to take a look at a whole bunch of people. They all have a right to be looked at no matter their story.
    Or maybe you prefer movies with a blond who can't get a job, who's horrible life consists of having to get her mails and hair done then finally meets the man of her dreams on a bridge and suddenly gets rich and the movie ends and she's on her way to the bahamas with a new sassy bag that's probably more expansive than the airport she's in. the end.

  • think | January 2, 2014 12:21 AM

    wooowowowowow, martin scorsesse making boring movies?
    what planet do you come from? He's in the same range as fellini, kubrick....
    are you the type of person who only watches things like jersey shore and berverly hills 90210?
    I bet your favorite movie is twilight!

  • Dam | December 31, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    If The Academy lets itself be influenced by nonsense like this Tea Party campaign against 'Wolf', Hollywood films will soon be mainly about bunny rabbits. No ambivalence, nothing open to interpretation, nothing to provoke anybody. Just wholesome messages for the whole family. Just after school specials.

  • finny | January 1, 2014 11:31 AM

    Oh so it's the "right" who are against the pro-Wall Street movie? PR much? Certainly the left would have no problem with it!

  • oinfoain | December 31, 2013 3:48 PM

    I agree, completely. It's hiding the truth because this is a true story, as we should remember. Is she really that confident to think that Scorcese is going to make a 3 hour love letter to this guy? Do people not remember Goodfellas? It's brimming with style, comedy, and it's a true story about someone who glorifies the mafia, not the director. Why can people not remember that Scorcese's style doesn't dictate his ideas?

  • SoulHonky | December 31, 2013 3:12 PMReply

    I have to disagree. It's a legitimate discussion. While it's not as egregious as Tarantino turning slavery into a revenge movie, this film also toed a line when it turned Wall St. vultures into a comedy (and even gave the subject of the film a cameo in the end.)
    Honestly, there was no reason for this movie to be three hours long and I have to agree that they could have at least mentioned the people that were being conned. I think many people will see this and think, "Man, if he just didn't get wrapped up in drugs and debauchery, he would have had a great, stable life."
    In the end, it's a very good comedy about a topic that's not really a laughing matter. I enjoyed the film but definitely can understand why some people are turned off by it and others might get the wrong message from it.

  • Rosie | January 7, 2014 5:27 PM

    ["I have to disagree. It's a legitimate discussion. While it's not as egregious as Tarantino turning slavery into a revenge movie, this film also toed a line when it turned Wall St. vultures into a comedy (and even gave the subject of the film a cameo in the end.)"]

    "DJANGO UNCHAINED" wasn't a revenge movie. Revenge was NOT the goal of Django, the main character. Was anyone paying attention? Jeez!

    And it doesn't matter whether Belfort's story was told as a comedy or not. Scorsese still revealed the corruption that dominated the former stockbroker's life. "THE APARTMENT" was a movie about adultery and ambition. Yet, it was shot as a comedy-drama. Do you have a problem with that?

  • oinfoain | December 31, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    The fact that she took the film at face value and really believes that Scorcese proposes misogynistic behavior to a "new generation" as something to be glorified shows that she really didn't think twice about anything she saw on screen. Pff! What's critical thinking? Who needs to be able to judge with any kind of context these days? Yeah, this kind of shit is more dangerous to the new generation than anything the movie "glorifies".

  • conscious | January 2, 2014 12:34 AM

    yeah, i think she's still in the process of accepting what happened to her, she seems really shaken and confused.
    Unfortunately, she shouldn't point her fingers on the filmaker but on her own father who took advantage of her and many people.
    what if she writes her book and someday and someone makes a movie out of it, what will she say? she shouldn't have been so impulsive because to me, it also seems as if she's doing promotion for her book months ahead....

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