Reviewed by: Jake Roberson
securities fraud (stock market and brokers)
purposely causing the financial ruin of many
How historically accurate is this movie?
about Jordan Belfort
drunkenness, illegal drug use and addictions
How can I deal with temptations? Answer
GAY—What’s wrong with being gay? Answer
Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?
Leonardo DiCaprio … Jordan Belfort
Margot Robbie … Naomi Lapaglia
Matthew McConaughey … Mark Hanna
Jonah Hill … Donnie Azoff
Jon Bernthal … Brad
Cristin Milioti … Teresa Petrillo
Jon Favreau … Manny Riskin
Rob Reiner … Max Belfort
Spike Jonze … Dwayne
Kyle Chandler … Patrick Denham
See all »
Red Granite Pictures
See all »
Warner Bros. Pictures
Debauchery: “Extreme indulgence in sensual pleasures… scandalous activities involving sex, alcohol, or drugs without inhibition”
In the wake of Black Monday (October 19, 1987), a young, unemployed stock broker contemplates taking a job stocking shelves in an electronics store. His loving wife encourages him not to give up on his ambitions…, and he subsequently discovers penny stocks. This serves as his revelation, his “Eureka” moment, and his life begins a swift upward trajectory into an intoxicating world of success, wealth, sex, and drugs.
Meet Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man known by some as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He’s not such a bad guy, really. In spite of his rampant drug abuse, voracious sexual appetite, and questionable business practices, he’ll insist that he’s really just a nice guy with a nice wife and a nice child and nice stuff. He even has a generous streak running through him, one that causes him to give generously to his friends, employees, and even a charity or three.
The problem is, you see, that his “questionable” business practices are really unethical ones, and the fact that his meteoric rise to the top was funded by tromping all over the rules (and sweetly swindling the life savings out from underneath scores of “shmucks”) has the FBI breathing down his neck. This makes Jordan, his friends and partners Donnie (Jonah Hill), Nicky (P.J. Byrne), and Brad (Jon Bernthal), his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie), and parents (Rob Reiner and Christine Ebersole), more than a little nervous. In light of that, what’s a fellow to do but live harder and swindle faster?
This is the story of Jordan Belfort, or, rather, this is the story of his narcissistic exploits during a brief foray into the American economic stratosphere known as Wall Street.
Violent Content: A man is punched out and dangled over the edge of a high balcony. We see a photo of a bloody bathroom and tub in which a man committed suicide. Jordan is slapped and hit by both of his wives, and once Jordan retaliates by slapping one of them back. A man almost dies while choking on a cold cut during an overdose on Quaaludes, and another man (who also overdosed) pounds on his friend’s chest trying to get it out. Jordan crashes his car into other vehicles and objects, including once while his daughter is in the car with him.
Language: There are well upwards of 500 f-words peppering the dialog. (I counted 586, to be precise, but others claim 506 or 569. Apparently they didn’t consult my tally marks.) In any case, this film is currently the largest user of the f-word of any feature dramatic motion picture, excluding porn movies.
The s-word gets thrown in another 90 or so times. God and Jesus’ names are profaned in different ways about 70 times altogether. B, h, and a-words get short shrift in comparison and add up to just fewer than 30 uses in total. There are far too many other crude terms used to keep up with, but suffice it to say that words like c*cksucker, douchbag, c*nt, tw*t, and f*ggot get bandied about a remarkable number of times in the middle of all the other profanity-laden conversations.
Drug/Alcohol Content: The quantity and variety of drugs and alcohol consumed and abused within the film’s three-hour run time is formidable. Xanax, Adderall, Morphine, Pot, Cocaine, and Heroin are all discussed and/or heavily abused by nearly every character onscreen. Jordan and Donnie in particular are basically perpetually drunk and high during every waking moment. Although they enjoy each of the drugs listed above, they have a particular fondness for Cocaine and Quaaludes, the latter of which is so appreciated by Jordan that he makes extra time to wax eloquent about its rarity and effects.
A lengthy scene where Jordan and Donnie overdose on some extra-strength “ludes” is played for laughs, which becomes particularly disturbing when you consider that it plays out in front of Jordan’s young daughter and that Donnie almost chokes to death in the middle of the high. The drug abuse is commonly tied to the sexual debauchery, as Jordan and his friends frequently attempt to enhance their use by snorting drugs off of various female body parts (i.e., breasts, backsides, etc.). Speaking of sex…
Sexual Content: Just as pervasive as the language and drug content, and just as overwhelming. Both in terms of what we see onscreen and hear talked about ad nauseam. Myriad references to hookers and their attractiveness, cost, preferences, and diseases stand alone and also mingle with repeated images of them nude or in varying stages of undress. A man’s penis is shown when he begins to masturbate in public. There are several references to and partially obscured views of both gay and straight oral sex. We see scores of women both topless and fully nude from the back and the front as they cavort with lascivious men by air, land, and sea.
Two women in particular get extended screen time as the camera ogles their completely naked forms. Two massive orgies are shown (one gay and one straight), complete with male and female nudity, as well as a variety of simulated sex are shown onscreen. Simulated sex (and accompanying nudity) gets screen time at multiple points throughout the film as people have sex in beds, bathrooms, elevators, cars, airplanes, and yachts, as well as on top of office desks (a threesome) and piles of money. There’s more, but enough details have already been shared and trying to relate any more of them would be superfluous.
Themes: What may be the most problematic, though, is something that is a little too easy to lose sight of in the midst of the sea of sex, drugs, and money. But it’s something that ties all of that together and helps it make sense in the saddest sort of way. The most troubling part of the proceedings is the film’s underlying perpetuation and celebration of boundless self-gratification. Matthew McConaughey’s character, Mark Hanna, foreshadows this central focus early on when he counsels the wide-eyed Jordan Belfort that their ultimate goal and purpose is to “move the client’s money to your pocket.” Jordan embraces this goal quickly and wholeheartedly, and it isn’t long before he informs the audience that “their [his clients’] money was better off in my pocket. I knew how to spend it better.”
This mindset pervades the rest of the film as Jordan’s life (and the lives of his friends) becomes completely consumed by the pursuit of self-gratification via wealth accumulation, wild and promiscuous sex, and a passion for abusing any form of mind-altering substance they can lay their hands on. We might not have the same vices as Jordan Belfort, but an obsessive focus on self and self-indulgence/gratification is all too commonplace, both in our culture and within American Christianity at large. I say that with a finger pointed directly at myself.
Jesus made it clear that the path he walked and laid out for us calls us to selflessness and sacrifice, not selfishness and self-gratification. He called us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow [Him]” (Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23). This is something many of us have lost sight of, and, while “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not responsible for our shortcomings in this area, it does represent an unbridled and unapologetic (and unhealthy) promotion, acceptance, and celebration of it. Proverbs 16:25 warns us that,
“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”
The movie gives us a graphic look at the way that seemed right to Jordan Belfort, but it isn’t interested in giving us much of a look at the sort of consequences that come along with that lifestyle.
Biographical movies generally take on one of four primary tones when casting their cinematic magic spell on stories based on true stories: Cautionary, Explorative, Observational, or Celebrative. Scorsese uses a brief, semi-ambiguous ending to try, it would seem, to put an observational spin on his take of Jordan Belfort’s story, but by that point he has already undercut himself by spending the better part of three hours celebrating Belfort’s particular brand of indulgent debauchery. While under house arrest and half-heartedly attempting to get himself clean, Jordan complains to Donnie that “being sober sucks… it’s so boring… I want to kill myself.” Donnie sympathizes, and it makes one wonder: Why, if their lifestyle is so great, do they need to be constantly high to endure it? Why do they depend on increasingly expensive and irresponsible behavior for fun and meaning?
These could have been questions that Scorsese asked the audience to ponder, but he doesn’t. Instead he chooses to forgo leading us to any particular conclusion, which leaves the audience to consider the film as a whole. It is from this vantage point that we are left with the conclusion that Jordan Belfort’s problem wasn’t really the sex… or the drugs… or even the lust for wealth. No, instead it suggests that his real problems were deep-seated insecurity and an unhealthy dependence on approval and control that led him to getting caught.
What audiences are left with is a romp-roaring celebration of irresponsible living, a cavalcade of images portraying reckless drug abuse and sexual depravity, and an ending that amounts to little more than a casual “kinda lame that he got himself caught” shrug of the shoulders. Which is a shame, because, technically, it’s a good film. Scorsese keeps the pacing tight, DiCaprio, along with the rest of the cast, is nothing short of magnetic. It’s just that their behavior, and what we see onscreen, shouldn’t feel so magnetic.
Language: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme / Violence: Moderately Heavy
Learn about DISCERNMENT—wisdom in making personal entertainment decisions
“VOTING” FOR MOVIES FILLED WITH IMMORAL BEHAVIOR—Every time you buy a movie ticket or rent a video you are casting a vote telling Hollywood “That’s what I want.” Why does Hollywood continue to promote immoral programming? Are YOU part of the problem? Answer
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.