Star Leonardo DiCaprio has made a name for himself lately playing über-rich guys on the wrong side of righteousness. “The Great Gatsby” could be a role model for Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” And the plantation owner in “Django Unchained” contains the seeds of grandeur at any cost.
But some moviegoers — notably Christina McDowell, daughter of Washington securities lawyer Thomas Prousalis, who pleaded guilty to engaging in stock fraud in the 1990s, as part of the schemes of Jordan Belfort — accuses the movie of glorifying crime. After all, the movie doesn’t show Belfort getting his just deserts for all his penny-stock frauds. Well, not enough at any rate.
This seems to stem from the current zeitgeist that movies should demonstrate that Crime Doesn’t Pay (as the old Comics Code required comic books to proclaim).
Problem is, it sometimes does.
And “The Wolf of Wall Street” is based on a true story. In the movie, Belfort is sentenced to 36 months. In real life, he served only 22.
Apparently, it’s not enough punishment that Belfort lost his family, lost his millions, lost his mansion, lost his friends whom he ratted out, and was reduced to doing get-rich-quick motivational seminars in Holiday Inns around the country.
Or maybe it’s not the degree of the punishment that bothers us. Maybe it’s that the movie doesn’t portray him as being contrite enough for his malfeasances.
After all, we’ve been treated to three hours of screen time where we witness DiCaprio-as-Belfort tossing away hundred-dollar bills, sailing on his 100-plus-foot yacht, snorting cocaine, doing ’ludes, cavorting with naked hookers, thumbing his nose at the FBI, and bilking investors out of billions.
New York magazine critic David Edelstein describes it as “three hours of horrible people doing horrible things and admitting to being horrible.” True enough.
Bad people are no stranger to Scorsese’s movies. Think: “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Gangs of New York,” and “Taxi Driver.” And boxer Jake LaMotte is no role model in “Raging Bull,” a film that many critics consider the best movie ever made.
Have we already forgotten the anti-hero movies of the ‘60s? “Bonnie and Clyde” were not good guys … but they did get riddled with bullets for their bank robbing ways.
The problem is, how do you punish people in a movie who got away with it in real life?
Belfort claims to be sorry for all the pain he inflicted on others. He says he wants you to see the movie as a cautionary tale.
“‘Convicted stock swindler’ – it’s like it hurts my heart,” he says. “I know it was true, but it’s not who I am.”
However, it is.
My wife won’t go see a Woody Allen movie because she disapproves of his tryst and later marriage to an “adopted” daughter. But I can appreciate him as a great filmmaker, even if I disapprove of his personal life.
My wife didn’t go see “The Wolf of Wall Street” because she saw the movie trailer and determined these types of people didn’t interest her. I liked the movie.
No Jordan Belfort didn’t have many redeeming qualities. But did it glorify crime? I don’t think so. No way was I enticed to quit my day job and go bilk people out of their life savings so I could party with wild women on my yacht.
Even without black hats, I can still tell the bad guys from the good guys in movies.