Hollywood is abuzz over the rescheduling of "The Wolf of Wall Street," one of the most anticipated releases of the year. The movie, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby-wannabe and real-life swindler Jordan Belfort, has been pushed back from a Nov. 15 release to Christmas. Director Martin Scorsese is working overtime editing the picture to make the new target date so it can qualify for the Academy Awards.
Paramount Studios' pressure on Scorsese to finish in time to make a bid for Hollywood's most coveted tchotchke is a waste of time. Expect an Oscar backlash on two fronts: Jordan Belfort and Jordan Belfort. As in, Jordan Belfort, the self-styled "redeemed" entrepreneur, and Jordan Belfort, ex-con ordered to repay $110 million to the clients he bamboozled. Of that amount, he has come up with only $243,000 over the past four years, aside from court-mandated asset forfeitures.
Belfort was never called "The Wolf of Wall Street," a moniker an agent likely dreamed up as the title of his book. His second ex-wife dubbed him "The Cockroach of Wall Street," and while fitting, it's not very marketable.
The Cockroach wasn't a Wall Street player; he ran his penny-stock chop-shop on Long Island, the nearest he ever got to Jay Gatsby's West Egg mansion. As for Belfort the "redeemed" felon, the federal government recently alleged that he failed to cough up the restitution that was part of his sentencing deal. This is a man who defrauded many mom-and-pop investors in a pump-and-dump deal, someone more akin to convicted Ponzi scheme/scam man Barry Minkow than the mysterious Jay Gatsby.
Was Gatsby a bootlegger? A stock swindler? We never quite know, which is part of the genius of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unlike Gatsby, the history of Jordan Belfort is known, and it's painful. Go on Belfort's website and you'll encounter a cut-rate Ricky Roma of Glengarry Glen Ross as played by Joe Pesci, not Al Pacino. It's not pretty.
In a performance cut straight from the hambone, the hand-slapping, lip-smackin' Cockroach inveigles a new generation of insects intent on learning about "closing" to join his website for the bargain price of $2,000 with the promise that he'll tell you the story about how he sank his yacht while high! If it were a satire, Belfort would win a Webby Award for best of the Internet.
For Paramount, the less the public knows about the real Jordan Belfort, the better. Handicapping this year's Oscars based on the history of the Academy Awards, you can bet voters will react negatively when they find out the truth. The hopes of The Hurricane, which featured a brilliant performance by Denzel Washington as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, were scotched when voters realized the "biographical film" was more fiction than fact. Ditto the Best Picture hopes of Born on the Fourth of July when Oliver Stone -- surprise, surprise! -- was found to have played fast and loose with the facts.
The studio, with the albatross of Belfort hanging around the picture's neck, would be better off letting Scorsese cut the picture at his own pace, as Harvey Weinstein did with Gangs of New York. We might get another masterpiece, but I don't find the trailer promising. The movie seems geared towards the "Fan Boys" that dominate the movie market. Boys like Jordan Belfort, determined to live in the Paese dei Balocchi (Land of Toys) of Pinocchio where they never have to grow up or answer for their actions.
I'm afraid Wolf won't live up to another Leo DiCaprio movie, Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, in which he played Frank Abagnale Jr., a modern trickster who went on to a career helping bust con men like Belfort. If you want to make a movie about redemption that offers light and not just heat, people like Mike Milken, the junk bond king busted for securities swindling turned philanthropist, and Adam B. Resnick, the compulsive gambler convicted of bank fraud turned professional whistleblower are the ticket.
As someone who studied for the priesthood before making cinema his religion, Scorsese knows something about duality and the human soul. In the future, if Scorsese is intent on winning another Academy Award, he should focus on someone more genuine. The confidence trickster who broke the law but found redemption by trying to give back to society ultimately provide better material rather than the Cockroach of Wall Street, who is on the Internet attempting to breed a new generation of soulless vermin.
Oscar voters are like Holden Caulfield: They abhor phonies, a classic case of Psych 101 projection. And come Oscar time, they are likely to give the thumbs down to The Wolf of Wall Street. Jordan Belfort is bound to sink Marty's Oscar hopes as surely as he sank his yacht!
Jon C. Hopwood is a freelance journalist and editor. He has written extensively on current events, history, politics and the cinema.