InvestmentNews INsider

The INsiderblog

InvestmentNews reporters offer their take on intriguing or controversial articles from around the web.

Keep the 'Wolf' at the door

Scorsese film celebrates frat-party side of investment advice world

Dec 27, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

wolf on wall st, finra, sec, enforcement, fiduciary, stratton oakmont, jordan belfort
+ Zoom
(Getty Images)

If you're considering going to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the new Martin Scorsese film that opened on Christmas Day, you ought to think about an investment that might be better spent elsewhere.

No, not in penny stocks or initial public offerings that the movie's protagonist, Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, used to rip off unsuspecting customers to fund his lavish lifestyle. You'll have to consider whether to sink 2 hours and 59 minutes of your day into the film.

Let me give you some time-investment advice: Don't do it.

Like Mr. Scorsese's critically acclaimed “Goodfellas,” a 1990 film about guys trying to make a name for themselves in the Mafia, “Wolf” features a protagonist doing a voice over and occasionally addressing the camera directly.

The similarities end approximately there. “Wolf” lacks the element that “Goodfellas” has in abundance – heart. Unlike “Goodfellas,” there is no one in “Wolf” with whom you can empathize and no story lines that make you ponder deeper questions about life.

“Wolf” is a prolonged frat party, replete with graphic drug use and nudity. It's a celebration of the debauchery that can result from conning middle-class investors into sinking their retirement money into fly-by-night companies or rigging company launches.

For much of the film, the characters seem as if they're having a good time — except for the frequent bad highs from a volatile mix of cocaine and Quaaludes.

“Wolf” doesn't challenge the audience to consider whether Mr. Belfort's behavior foreshadowed the financial collapse that occurred almost a decade after he and his partner pleaded guilty to stock manipulation and money laundering while they were running the now-defunct brokerage Stratton Oakmont Inc.

Was there something about the way that Mr. Belfort is always selling that would illuminate why flimsy mortgage-backed loans later sunk the economy? Is there an element of Mr. Belfort's journey through the brokerage world that would give us insight into the dangers that still lurk there for investors?

The answers to those questions are not apparent anywhere during the laborious running time of “Wolf.”

It's possible that “Wolf” could stoke some discussions about fiduciary duty among investment advisers who see the film. While he worked at brokerages, Mr. Belfort didn't have an obligation to act in the best interests of his client. But in his professional bacchanal he didn't come close to meeting the minimum standards for a broker either — offering suitable investment products for his clients.

The film gives precious little screen time to the most interesting character — the FBI agent who doggedly pursued Mr. Belfort.

In its brief enforcement scenes, the film portrays Mr. Belfort and his colleagues — including his dad — calculating whether working out a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission is the best way for him to extricate himself from the criminal web he weaved.

Taking your ban from the industry and moving on seems to be the easy way out. I would have enjoyed sitting next to SEC Chairman Mary Jo White in the theater to see her reaction to that dialogue.

Instead, Mr. Belfort decides to hold on until Stratton Oakmont's bitter end and his own imprisonment. He's now paying back investors in part through the money he makes giving motivational speeches. His redemption is a story line that must have been left on Mr. Scorsese's cutting room floor.

In one scene, Mr. Belfort is shown instructing seminar attendees on how to sell a pen. I admit I can't sell a pen — and I can't sell this movie either.


What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Sponsored financial news

Upcoming Event

Oct 17


Best Practices Workshop

For the fifth year, InvestmentNews will host the Best Practices Workshop & Awards, bringing together the industry’s top-performing and most influential firms in one room for a full-day. This exclusive workshop and awards program for the... Learn more

Featured video


Federated's Orlando: The economic and financial midyear outlook

As a country, are we stuck in neutral? Federated's Phil Orlando explains what he believes needs to happen to create an economic surge. (Hint: It rhymes with "crump.")

Video Spotlight

Will It Last As Long As Your Clients Do?

Sponsored by Prudential

Video Spotlight

The Catalyst

Sponsored by Pershing

Latest news & opinion

Edward Jones is winning the Google search war

Brokerage firm's digital marketing investment helps land it at the top of local and overall search engine results, report finds.

Voya's win in 401(k) fee suit involving Financial Engines bodes well for other record keepers

Fidelity, Aon Hewitt and Xerox HR Solutions are currently defending against similar fiduciary-breach claims.

Collective investment trusts getting more attention from 401(k) advisers

The funds are catching on due largely to lower costs and more product availability, but come with some inherent drawbacks.

Vanguard rides robo-advice wave to $65B in assets

Personal Advisor Services, four times the size of its closest competitor, combines digital and human touch.

CFPs, including brokers, may have to adhere to a stricter fiduciary duty

CFP Board revises its standards and aims to beef up fiduciary requirements of certificants.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print