A tale of two conmen: American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street

Hustle_WallStreet

Now that I’ve joined my university’s film group, the Oscar season is once again the worst time of the year for me. Over the last four weeks, I’ve already seen seven films, and there are many more that I’ve marked on that program. However, even though many of them were Oscar contenders…that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were all enjoyable. As it happens, one of the two films I’m looking at today didn’t really float my boat. It’s not particularly difficult to guess which one, right?

The only term I can use to to describe The Wolf of Wall Street is “full-on.” Telling the tale of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort and his firm, Stratton Oakmont, it’s a look at the sordid world within which unscrupulous people are born. Drugs, sex and lies…all in excess…I was quite sick of it after two hours, and there was a full hour left… Of course, I imagine that some types of stockbrokers would say that all they’re doing is marketing for people with ideas; some of those ideas will succeed, and ultimately, its the investors who choose whether they want to support ‘a good cause’ or not. Furthermore, having served time for fraud and stock manipulation (through e.g. the IPO of Steve Madden Ltd), Belfort was also sentenced to pay restitution for his crimes.

However, what’s really distasteful about Martin Scorcese’s most recent film is that it does precisely what Belfont did: make money for rich people at the expense of those he cheated. Belfort has apparently paid back less than $250,000 despite earning $1.8 million over four years to 2013 from the proceeds of his books – including the one on which this film is based. It might be possible to argue that Scorcese and co.’s intent is to turn the spotlight back on Belfont…to whatever outcome that brings. Or perhaps some of those who stand to profit from the film are or will be donating their earnings to the victims. However, whilst the film will probably be interpreted by most audiences as a satire rather than a glorification of the lifestyle and behaviour it depicts, I was disgruntled to learn that Jordan Belfort himself was the person who presented DiCaprio – playing himself – at the seminar on sales technique at the end of the film. Given that he apparently hasn’t been paying the restitution ordered of him, what does that suggest about the people who have brought him even more fame and profit by making this film?

On the whole, I found American Hustle a lot more to my taste. Tongue-in-cheek right from the start, the film announces that, well, “some of this actually happened.” Admittedly, it was a bit of a shock to see Christian Bale with a pot belly and a rather impressive comb-over, and to see Amy Adams in a role quite different from the only other film I’d seen her in, but it great to see more of their acting talents. The story also kept me guessing over how Irving would get himself out of the pinch he found himself in, and I’ll admit that I quite liked seeing Richie’s overbearing idiocy flip around and bite him in the end…though I also wonder what the person he’s very loosely based on would think. Additionally, I don’t suppose the FBI would have been pleased about their portrayal, but I do hope they ultimately took it in the spirit that it was meant. Being able to laugh at yourself is a good indication of how assured you are in your position in society, after all.

In sum, unlike IMDB, I’d recommend American Hustle over The Wolf of Wall Street. Both are well made…I just enjoyed the former far more.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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