Auckland scene final straw for US prosecutor

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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The Auckland-based final scene of Oscar-tipped movie Wolf on Wall St has outraged the US federal prosecutor who sent the real wolf to jail for fraud.

The movie, which has courted infamy with its 544 f-words and countless naked women, finishes in Auckland with convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, showing an audience how to sell a pen.

The final scene, rather than some imagined fiction in a faraway land, is based on real events: Belfort was in Auckland last year and dozens paid $500 to listen to him speak and some bought his 10-CD, 10-DVD motivational package Straight Line Sales and Persuasion System for $2400.

Director Martin Scorsese's film tells how Belfort set up a Wall Street operation to sell falsely promoted penny stocks. As the FBI delved into the operation, Belfort tries to launder cash into a Swiss bank account. He is caught but rather than spend 25 years' jail, he shops his friends and gets two years in a luxury federal jail with tennis courts.

Once out of jail he turned to motivational speaking . . . and ended up in Auckland where Scorsese shows him at the Auckland Event Centre, complete with the Sky Tower and the city's name behind him.

What has angered former prosecutor Joel Cohen is that the final scene features Belfort himself, playing the a cameo role as an MC, as well as actual advertising for Belfort's new business.

He told the Wall Steet Journal the blurring of reality and fiction in the last scene "rubbed me the wrong way" especially the way the film "advertised the real Jordan Belfort's current business".

Cohen, who said Belfort defrauded "tens of thousands of people of hundreds of thousands of dollars", also voiced his concern on the opinion pages of the New York Times.

He said until the end of the movie he had accepted "it is hard to truly feel the proper degree of disgust for [the character] charmingly portrayed by Mr DiCaprio".

But with the Auckland scene, Cohen says his reaction changed.

"For reasons I don't understand, the film-makers and screenwriter opted as their final word to use the real Jordan Belfort to introduce the character played by Mr DiCaprio," Cohen wrote. "The film pans over a rapt crowd of new victims enthralled by the character delivering a snippet of a histrionic speech viewers had seen earlier in the movie, when Mr Belfort used the device to teach his brokers how to rip off innocent investors."

As for Belfort's real advertising logo being used in the Auckland scene: "I suppose the film-makers' point is that there perpetually remain audiences for fraudulent scams."

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Cohen said some might think "putting the artist and his muse together on a stage for a final scene" in Auckland was a cute conceit but "to his victims, it is beyond an insult.

And for anyone who is enticed to pay Mr Belfort to hear his recordings and speeches, it aids and abets this unrepentant character in possibly duping others yet again."

Online news website Salon describes the Auckland scene as "slippery and ingenious".

The Sunday Star-Times requested an interview with Belfort but his assistant, Liv Tylutki, said while he was "very interested" in doing an interview "at this time, Paramount has asked him not to give any interviews. However, the quiet period should be ending in the near future", she said.

AND MENTIONS GO TO . . .

Wolf of Wall Street is not the first Hollywood movie to include a throwaway-but-defining line about New Zealand. Others include: Oliver Stone's 1992 movie JFK included a scene around the Christchurch Star newspaper breaking the news to some spooky American that John F Kennedy had been assassinated that day.

Patrick Swayze's 1991 Point Break includes a scene where his character is about to surf huge waves in the 100-year storm and says "Hell, I'm not going to paddle to New Zealand".

Robert de Niro in Heat says he wants to run away to somewhere where he'll never be found - New Zealand. In Mission Impossible 3, Tom Cruise asks his wife/girlfriend where they first met or dated to prove that she was who she said she was, and the answer was Wanaka.

Argo suggested, incidentally and wrongly, that New Zealand did not want to help US Embassy hostages in Iran.

- Sunday Star Times

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