How 'The Wolf of Wall Street' Is Basically the Same Movie as 'Spring Breakers'

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How 'The Wolf of Wall Street' Is Basically the Same Movie as 'Spring Breakers'

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | December 27, 2013 | Comments ()


The similarities between Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street are uncanny. Spring Breakers centered around Alien (James Franco), a white gangster with a grill, guns, and a God complex, while The Wolf of Wall Street centers on Jordan Belfort, a white Wall Street broker with a similar God complex who killed not with guns, but more slowly and tortuously by stealing from the naive, and who — instead of designating status with a grill and bling — flashed his $3,000 suits and $2 million bachelor party. Both movies heavily feature an orgiastic excess of drugs and sex, and both share a similar hedonistic quality. The difference is that one took place in a spring-break destination, while the other takes place in a Wall Street, though even those are depicted in surprisingly similar ways: Boobs, banging, orgies, drugs, illegal and illicit activities, and the long-term destruction those fleeting thrills wrought upon not just the central characters, but those who get swept up in their wakes. Both Alien and Belfort even have catchy, funny, and haunting refrains: Alien’s “Spring Breeeeaaaaak” and the chest-thumping mantra that Belfort borrows from his mentor, Matthew McConaughey’s Mark Hanna.

“I’m about making money … it’s about the fucking American dream,” says Alien in Spring Breakers, which is essentially the same motivation that drives Jordan Belfort, an ambitious Wall Street broker whose entryway into obscene wealth is in ripping middle-class people off with worthless penny stocks before moving on to ripping off wealthier clients, insider trading, and money laundering. Each success in Belfort’s climb up the social ladder taints him a little more, until in the end he’s cornered by the money, the drugs, the house, the yacht, and the model-wife he “worked” so hard to gain.

But neither Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street nor Korine’s Spring Breakers are as interested in exploring why these characters are the way they are, inasmuch as they’re interested in depicting the mayhem. And why not? There’s a gorgeous cinematic quality to watching Leonardo DiCaprio sniff cocaine out of a prostitutes asshole, in throwing little people into dart boards, and in watching DiCaprio have hilarious palsy-like reactions to Quaaludes. For two hours of The Wolf of Wall Street’s three hours, the drug-fueled decadence, the nudity, and the zany comic brilliance of the movie is enough to carry it through. Unfortunately, it takes another entire hour for Scorsese to illustrate the same point that Korine made: That the exorbitance and the overkill of glut can become just as boring and mundane as the suburban act buying groceries and mowing the lawn every week. In the end, however, it was the degeneracy of each character that brought them down, although if there’s one difference between the movies that the comparison illustrates best, it’s that wealth amassed from selling drugs will get you killed, while wealth amassed from stealing money will land you in a white-collar prison playing tennis with your other rich, corrupt buddies for less than two years before you’re spat back out into wealthy society.

Still, while the thematic similarities between the two films are striking, the stylistic differences between Korine and Scorsese couldn’t be more stark. While Korine illustrated his point with a droning series of images designed to beat you into submission, Scorsese’s film is mostly wildly entertaining, thanks largely to DiCaprio’s unhinged performance and, especially, Jonah Hill’s scene-stealing supporting character. Hill plays the Belfort’s debauched partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff, who is spectacularly, manically hilarious every moment he’s in the film. Were it not for Hill, the film would’ve flatlined long before the FBI investigation sank the last third of The Wolf of Wall Street, notwithstanding a terrific performance from Kyle Chandler, as an boy-scout FBI agent who gets his jollies from taking down wealthy douchebags like Belfort.

It’s also worth noting that in the case of both movies — and both rotten, unsympathetic, though exciting central characters — audiences roundly rejected them, while critics ate it up. Both movies are popping up in critics’ end-of-year top ten lists, even though Spring Breakers was widely loathed by moviegoers and The Wolf of Wall Street has earned an abysmal C- Cinemascore. There’s plenty of artistic merits to The Wolf of Wall Street, and for fans of dark, dark comedy, it doesn’t get much better. It is nevertheless difficult to get behind DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, a despicable human being made only more despicable by the fact that the consequences of his actions were not proportionate to his crimes.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BeauHajavitch

    Spring Breakers, huh? Well, imagining Ashley Benson playing Margot Robbie's part is sure bringing on masturbation urges. Now that would be something to see. Next topic: Any sympathy toward Belfort for needing $$$ for his child he has near the film's end? Some people around where I live have sympathy for murders and rapists if putting them in jail cuts off their income toward their wife and children.

  • St

    I did not understand why this ,movie was made. Small SPOILERS ahead.

    So this Jordan gay was stealing from people, got very rich, was doing drugs for years, sleeping with any woman he wanted, then was slapped with few months in prison where he was plying tennis, then got out, wrote a book. become rich again. sold the rights to book to Hollywood, then Scorsese did a movie about him with DiCaprio in lead role and now it might get multiple Oscar nominations. Making this guy not only rich thief but also famous...

    At least if he would get some 20 years in prison for what he did. But no.

    It’s like this movie tells me that I should steal and become rich. then do drugs because it will not hurt me at all and will be fun and then no one will punish me and then Hollywood will do movie about me and make me famous...

    This movie should not be made at all. Because it celebrates thief and a-hole. And makes him famous and even more rich. I mean it was good and interesting movie with good acting. But it glorifies thieves and a-holes. It celebrates their life and tells viewers how fan it it to steal, live in rich house, have a yacht and then have Hollywood make about about you.

  • junierizzle

    My thoughts exactly. Spring Breakers on acid.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Feels like Spring Breakers review 2.0. And c'mon. Comparing Scorsese to Korine is laughable.

  • aroorda

    As someone dealing with their own addiction issues, it was pretty early in the movie I started feeling uncomfortable. Mostly because Jordan is so head over heels in love/aware of his addictions.

    The movie was also about an hour (30 minutes at minimum) too long. There was a LOT that couldve been cut. I get the excess is "part of the statement," but after the third or fourth orgy scene, I mean come on. Scorsese should have someone else editing his films at this point.

    Lastly him getting 3 years for this shit is proof positive our justice system is fucked. I wish theyd spent more time on that theme than "tits and ass are awesome!!!!!" Although I had to turn off spring breakers an hour in, I wouldnt throw this film out of bed on a saturday afternoon. Will never seek it out as a classic either though.

  • enon

    just from the brief clips i've seen, it seems to be a celebration of these pigs' activities. what turned me off to it was seeing a photo of belfort and wife at the premiere -- with huge smiles, just having a grand old time.

  • DeJon Redd

    It's not.

    DiCaprio's Belfort has uncheck ambition to the point of being a surprisingly unsophisticated investment thug. He has no self-restraint over his animalistic urges, and he's lucky enough to live in a society that promotes all of these attributes in our citizenry.

    His monetary success is an indictment of our financial system, and the way he figuratively and literally gives the middle finger to those he's ripping off left a lasting impression on me.

    Sure I was sick of Belfort the last hour of the movie, but I walked out of the theater wrestling with some ugly similarities between Belfort's hedonism and the spectrum of decisions from petty to monumental that I and everyone I know make every day.

  • jettcity

    You could draw the same parallels with most gangster/crime dramas and I didn't see anything that immediately made me recall Spring Breakers while I was watching WoWS. Spring Breakers was just a mess at best, and dumb and cringeworthy at worst. What came to mind for me was the strong stylistic resemblance to Goodfellas, things like the use of voiceover, period music, the crazy kinetic, drug fueled lifestyle.

  • RilesSD

    Agreed. I thought the structure of rise, excess and then the fall closely mirrored Goodfellas.

    The dialogue too. I kept picturing De Niro saying "relax, relax" and the same phrases over and over again, which DiCaprio did in this.

    Some of the scenes were even similar. One was when Jordan got into an argument with his wife and then tricked her into putting on a show for the camera -- this directly mirrored when Henry Hill seduced his girlfriend and then stole the money and laughingly ran out of the apartment.

  • This... is kind of damming.

    Despite the pedigree, I find my enthusiasm for The Wolf of Wall Street deflating like a balloon with a slow leak.

  • pajiba

    That was basically my reaction over the course of the movie. From HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME, too THIS IS HILARIOUS to MORE OF THIS, HUH? to MAN, WHEN WILL THIS BE OVER ALREADY?

  • RilesSD

    Yep. Scorsese really knows how to drag out a scene (and movie).

  • griffimx

    This exactly describes how I felt about this move! The last hour was painful for me.

  • BWeaves

    I like this comment review!

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