Martin Scorseseit is the wolf of Wall Street is a darkly comic depiction of Wall Street’s rampant hedonism and greed that ranks among the maestro’s greatest works of the past decade. Like all narrative films based on true stories, a few liberties were taken with the life and crimes of Jordan Belfort, such as using Jonas HillIDonnie Azoff’s character as a stand-in for several of Belfort’s real-life friends. Overall though, the film is remarkably accurate and certainly conveys the underlying truths of Belfort’s 2007 memoir, which was the main source material for the film. Although the film is 3 hours long, some interesting details and subplots did not make it into the final cut. By exploring the real-life stories of some of the film’s main characters, we’ll see where Scorsese’s film deviated from the truth, and understand the additional context that helps add complexity to this remarkable, hilarious, and tragic story.
The overall story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, as portrayed in Scorsese’s film, is true to life. Belfort was probably breaking hundreds of laws at one time, most of which involved defrauding its shareholders and manipulating the shares of dozens of companies. He recruited young children, mostly working-class Long Islanders, to work at Stratton and indoctrinated them into what he repeatedly calls, in his 2007 memoir, a “cult.” They were taught to worship the altar of money and to scam their clients into buying worthless stocks. While all of this was happening in his professional life, Belfort’s personal life was plagued by addictions to many illegal substances, primarily cocaine and Quaaludes. He cheated on his first wife with a woman nicknamed “The Duchess of Bay Ridge”, played by Margot Robbie in the movie. He then married the Duchess and they had a tumultuous relationship filled with deception and abuse which ended in divorce. Eventually, Belfort was arrested by the FBI and after serving 22 months in federal prison, he became a writer and motivational speaker. His first memoirs the wolf of Wall Streetwas released in 2007.
Perhaps the biggest surprise found in Belfort’s memoir is that most of what is depicted in the film is true, at least according to Belfort’s best recollection. The copious amounts of drugs, the proliferation of sex workers, and rampant crime are all portrayed quite accurately. Many of the more outrageous scenes in the movie, like when an employee gets her head shaved for $10,000, are true. Stratton Oakmont was notoriously depraved, but much of this depravity was inspired by existing financial institutions, some prestigious, others much less so. In other words, Belfort did not invent the practice of defrauding shareholders by snorting countless lines of cocaine, but he engaged in these illegal activities more frequently and ostentatiously than most.
One aspect of the film that accurately conveys Belfort’s mindset and perspective is its frequent use of groundbreaking narrations, in which Belfort speaks directly to the camera/audience. In his book, Belfort writes, “It was as if my life was a stage and the wolf of Wall Street was performing for the benefit of an imaginary audience. Of course, this audience turned out to be real. Perhaps it was this idea of playing a character that led Belfort to dub himself the “wolf of Wall Street.” There is little evidence that anyone called him by this nickname before the publication of his book. Belfort gives the impression throughout his memoir that people constantly called him “The Wolf” but that seems like creative embellishment at best.
In an effort to make Belfort look perhaps a little less crazy than his on-screen character, it’s worth mentioning that despite the film citing “back pain” in the air quotes as the reason for his drug use, Belfort really had constant back problems. which required several surgeries. He often used his health issues as a partial excuse for abusing various substances, but the film downplays his reliance on pharmaceuticals to relieve his chronic pain. Nor was Belfort reckless or stupid enough to attempt to bribe an FBI agent, as shown in the film. Belfort never even interacted with the FBI agent who was pursuing him until his arrest.
A particularly dramatic moment in the film that is only partially true is when Belfort gives a speech to his employees, informing them that he is stepping down as boss and handing over the reins to Jonah Hill’s character, Donnie. Then, halfway through, he decides to back up and yells “I’m not fucking leaving!” to enthusiastic applause. In reality, Belfort quit, but strongly implied in his speech that he would still run Stratton from the sidelines by giving “advice” to Donnie’s real-life counterpart. Of course, once Belfort gave up control, Stratton entered a downward spiral from which he would never recover.
Donnie Azoff is based on a real person named Danny Porush, who was Belfort’s right-hand man at Stratton and seemingly an out-of-control Quaalude drug addict. Porush was introduced to Belfort by his wife. He was not, as shown in the film, a children’s furniture salesman who quit his job to work for Belfort when he saw one of Belfort’s pay stubs. In an interview with Mother Jones, Porush denied that several events depicted in the film ever happened, including the infamous dwarf throwing scene (an idea that was apparently dismissed by Belfort for being too outrageous). He also confirmed to Mother Jones that no one in the company has ever called Belfort “the wolf” or “the wolf of Wall Street”.
Although the film depicts Donnie as being resurrected by Belfort after choking on food under the influence of Quaaludes, he is actually another friend of Belfort whose life was saved when Belfort performed CPR on him. . Likewise, Porush was not on board the Belfort yacht when it capsized and sank during a storm (it was another group of friends, all of whom were rescued by the Italian coast guard). Porush, however, admitted to eating an employee’s goldfish in order to get a message across. Amazingly, it’s also true that Porush married his first cousin and brought Belfort to a crack den. He spent 20 months in prison after the FBI unraveled Stratton’s schemes.
Steve Madden (Jake Hoffman), the famous shoe designer, was a childhood friend of Danny Porush and was drawn into his old friend’s anarchy (Madden would eventually be sentenced to 41 months in prison). While Madden has a relatively quick appearance in the film, he looms large in Belfort’s memoir. Madden was actually personally and professionally closer to Belfort than to Porush. According to Belfort, Madden even offered to co-run his shoe business with Belfort, with Madden focusing on shoe design and Belfort focusing on manufacturing and distributing the business. After leaving Stratton, Belfort worked for Madden for a time until their relationship soured. Then the FBI arrested them both. Madden was eventually convicted of stock manipulation, money laundering and securities fraud.
The merry band of misfits and ex-weed dealers who make up Stratton’s core staff are mostly based on real people, but their exact work backgrounds and connections to Belfort are either simplified or omitted from the film. The Chester Ming (Kenneth Choi) character, for example, is based on a real person named Victor Wang who had a much more interesting role to play in Belfort’s memoir than in the film. Victor wanted to start his own business and was therefore viewed with suspicion by Belfort. It turns out that the suspicion was justified. Within days of starting his own company, Victor began spreading rumors that Stratton was on the verge of collapse. Later, he began poaching Stratton stockbrokers who preferred to work at Victor’s business in Manhattan rather than Belfort’s business on Long Island. Unbeknownst to Victor, Belfort was “waging a secret war” against him the whole time, which caused Victor’s new business to go bankrupt. It is also true that Victor assaulted Belfort’s butler and hung him out of the window. Victor ended up being sentenced to 8 years in prison.
Bo Dietl is a private investigator and former New York City mayoral candidate with a long history of appearing in Scorsese films. Dietl appeared in Freedmen as the detective who arrested Henry Hill and was cast in a memorable supporting role in The Irishman. Believe it or not, Dietl knew Belfort and chastised him for plotting a scheme to bug the FBI. Dietl also introduced Belfort to an FBI agent, unearthed information about the FBI’s investigation of Stratton Oakmont, and helped stop suspected mob members and other troublemakers from causing trouble for the company. of Belfort. Dietl ended up playing himself in the wolf of Wall Street.
Perhaps the strangest fact about the wolf of Wall Street is that Belfort’s cellmate in prison was none other than Tommy Chongthe legendary stoner and actor. In an interview with New York magazine, Belfort credited Chong with inspiring him to write a memoir. Chong apparently found Belfort to be endlessly entertaining. “Quaalude stories are my favorite,” Chong said. New York magazine.