My ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Review
- Joshua M Brown
- December 29th, 2013
Real quick – I finally managed to see The Wolf of Wall Street today, thought I’d write up some impressions…
For starters, I began in the business on Long Island at the tail-end of that era and I had met a lot of the guys depicted in the film while cold-calling at Duke & Company during the summer after my freshman year. They really were dumbasses and savage maniacs, but to the young guys who didn’t know any better, they were Ferrari-driving gods.
Duke & Co was the boiler room spin-off opened and run by ex-Stratton Oakmont guys who had broken away during the regulatory troubles. I’m fairly sure that the Asian character in the movie, “Chester Ming” is meant to portray Victor Wang, one of the founders of Duke (Jordan refers to him as “the depraved Chinaman” in the book). The big irony is that Duke & Co’s office was on Third Avenue in the 50′s, next door to the Lipstick Building where, even then in the late 1990′s, Bernie Madoff was running his secret (but much larger) fraud all along.
I’ve known ten or twelve guys who worked at the Lake Success headquarters of Stratton during its heyday; all the stories are true and there’s very little embellishment in the movie. It all happened and then some. I’ve been hearing these stories for fifteen years. There was a diaspora of sorts that happened after that firm went down, a thousand others had opened up shop as the brokers were scattered like seeds in the wind. Boiler room brokerages had sprung up from Westchester to New Jersey to Staten Island to the Financial District in Manhattan to Boca Raton, Florida. But nowhere was there as heavy a concentration as there was on Long Island. At one point, there was a nickel broker-dealer in every glass office tower in Suffolk and Nassau Counties (and many big buildings had several firms housed on different floors, imagine the stairwells).
The scripts used in the movie were the exact same ones taught to every NY metro area broker in the late 1990′s. I printed the entire Belfort pitch (which itself had been stolen from the Madison Avenue office of Lehman Brothers) in my book Backstage Wall Street, I’m fairly certain the producers got their hands on it for the film. I doubt Jordan had a copy lying around from twenty years ago. They also used the term “Wildebeest” which is something I use on TV a lot to describe runaway stocks. My friend Paul and I made it up in a finance context five years ago, so I’m flattered, I guess.
The great irony that’s not discussed is that Belfort, had he done Wall Street brokerage the legitimate way beginning in the late 1980′s, would probably have become a billionaire by now. I could picture him running a hedge fund of funds business or being a brokerage CEO and just selling the shit out of it while other people did all the real work. He could have been a major player legitimately if he wasn’t in such a rush.
Leo’s Long Island accent was perfect, so was Jonah’s. And I should know. Don’t be surprised if they start talking like that in real life now, it’s kind of addicting after a while
Margot Robbie as Nadine. Oh my god.
The drug stuff was sad/hilarious. Leo’s scene on Lemmon quaaludes might have been the most humorous thing he’s ever done on-screen.
The real Jordan Belfort has a cameo at the end where he introduces Leo as Belfort the motivational speaker. He’s tan and fit and undoubtedly having a great time. Not sure how anyone consulting on a biopic of their own life starring and directed by Oscar winners could even be capable of remorse.
I found it pretty shocking that they didn’t incorporate one scene showing the victims of this systematic theft. They don’t show the face of a single one, although we hear a handful on the phone. These scenes are played so that the audience is meant to laugh at the “customers” whilst high-fiving with the Wolf and his crew. It’s pretty ugly.
The female boiler room broker character was based on a woman I knew named Chrissie. Only she wasn’t just an ordinary “single mom,” she was actually a stripper who was so aggressive that the Strattonites figured she’d be a killer on the phones. She was, until they hauled her out in cuffs from another firm years later over Stratton-era IPOs.
There are still a handful of wannabe Belforts and mini-Strattons out there to this day. There are a handful of firms still holding out and doing the whole yelling into the phones while wearing Armani suits thing. A big one was taken down this past summer, but the brokers simply jump to a new firm and start all over again. These days, they can’t take inside rips in penny stocks, so it’s more about churning accounts using real stocks or selling clients private placements. There’s a good chance you’re talking to a boiler room broker if his office is actually located on actual Wall Street. But these guys are dying out. Their licenses are swiss cheese and potential suckers don’t answer their landline phones anymore anyway – hard to con someone over the phone you can’t get in touch with. It’s been over for a while but what else are they going to do? They think Stratton’s coming back someday and they’ll get rich again selling shit over the phone.
The movie itself if extremely well made and entertaining. Lots of people are saying it reminds them of Goodfellas and I agree. Maybe even a little more like Casino given the theme – guys who had no business running something that lucrative could never be smart enough to hold on to it without going too far.
100% of teenage boys who see this movie are going to want to grow up to be Jordan. I’m sure Scorsese didn’t set out to accomplish that but it’s inescapable. Oliver Stone didn’t think he was inventing Gordon Gekko to be the role model for a million young would-be finance guys, but that’s exactly what happened. Don’t think Belfort and Danny Porush (on whom Jonah’s character Donny Azoff is said to be based) didn’t have serious Gekko envy, that was the blueprint. Gekko’s like Billy the Kidd in that regard. He’s still quoted, revered and even emulated in every corner of the business world.
I recommend seeing it, if you can get past the real moral issues that some have raised. I get the argument against going to see it, but I couldn’t stay away.
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The Reformed Broker is a blog about financial markets and the economy. Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations... More.