The Man Who Cried Wolf


The Wolf of Wall Street is a great American tragedy, cloaked in a success story.

Jordan Belfort, a young stockbroker from Queens with modest ambitions, loses all sense of perspective and morality when he earns a tsunami of money. Based on a true story, Martin Scorsese’s film is a nonstop orgy of money-to-burn, drugs, hookers, Lamborghinis, McMansions, Swiss bank accounts, and abhorrent frivolities such as throwing dwarves for sport.

In his fifth film with Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Belfort is brilliantly over-the-top and outrageous. The film illustrates (apologies to William Blake) that the road to hell is in fact the palace of excess:  reckless, lawless, and soulless hedonism. “Obscene,” is how Belfort’s father (Rob Reiner) describes the spectacle of his son’s lifestyle.

“We tried to depict a modern-day Caligula, and all the debauchery that comes with it,” said DiCaprio at the Mandarin Oriental hotel last week. “Some of my favorite films have been a reflection of the darker side of human nature. I wanted to do a film that was a depiction of the times that we live in. Watching the destruction of our economy since 2008, Jordan, to me, represents something within our society that is very wrong. I felt compelled to portray that. These weren’t the fat cats destroying our economy and robbing the country of billions of dollars. These were the street urchins, the guys from the underworld,  trying to emulate Gordon Gekko.”

“It’s about creative trust,” Scorsese said of his relationship with DiCaprio. “In the later part of my life, to find someone I could collaborate with who rejuvenates me every time.”

Belfort provides viewers with a laundry list of all his drugs, ping-ponging like a pinball between the mania of cocaine and inertia of Quaaludes. Matthew McConaughey cameos as Belfort’s mentor, also a coke addict, telling him that Wall Street doesn’t make or produce anything: “It’s a game of fairy dust,” in more ways than one.

Into this bacchanalia enters FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who’s investigating Belfort. Chandler is the face of no-nonsense decency. From the moment he appears on screen, silently building the criminal case, we know without question that Belfort is going down. Having won the Emmy for Best Actor for his portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor, the moral compass of
Friday Night Lights, Chandler has since quietly worked with some of the industry’s finest film directors.  J.J. Abrams called him “crazy-watchable” in his role as a small-town sheriff in Abrams’ Super 8. Two of Chandler’s films—Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck’s Argo—competed for the Best Picture Oscar last year.

Now, working with Scorsese, Chandler explains that “the most enjoyable thing, for the actor, was going into this creative atmosphere. That first day of shooting on the boat—I was a little tense. But it only lasted about five minutes because Marty made it so easy and was so wonderful because he sets the tone. The experience as a whole was absolutely incredible.”

Replacing his Texas twang with an outer-borough New York accent, the scene on the boat is a riveting cat-and-mouse game between Chandler and DiCaprio. Chandler’s character, Denham, had previously studied for his stockbroker’s license, a fact that Belfort unearthed and dangles before him, dancing along the line of bribery, by enticing Denham with money and girls. Scorsese, who had planned to be a priest early in his life, clearly evokes Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. Belfort taunts him by comparing his yacht to Denham’s own subway ride home at night.

In one of the film’s last scenes, Chandler, having finally nailed DiCaprio, sits in a subway car, on his way home. In close-up, the camera observes him as he watches an elderly couple.  With DiCaprio’s words ringing in his ears, did he regret not choosing to be a stockbroker himself?  Or did he (far more likely) realize that he had stopped Belfort from defrauding working-class people out of their life savings? 

“You know, so many people have come up to me and said, were you thinking this or that, so I’ll just leave it at that,” Chandler told
Interview. “Whatever people see that I was thinking, that’s what they sort of take out of the whole movie. I don’t want to set it for them. How’s that?”

Chandler and his
Friday Night Lights castmates are often asked by devoted fans about a film sequel to the series, as executive producers Peter Berg and Jason Katims have previously mentioned the possibility in the press. We asked Chandler if he would be interested in a sequel. “Pete [Berg] just said the other day that they finally dropped that idea,” he replied.

That’s okay; there’s plenty of Coach Taylor’s clear eyes, full heart in Chandler’s Denham.