Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese didn't set out to tell moviegoers that snorting cocaine off a prostitute's bare backside is the very epitome of success.
It just might appear that way to some.
But DiCaprio—who is winning rave reviews for his performance as high-flying stock broker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, based on Belfort's memoir about the heady days before he lost everything—suggests that people who think the film is glamorizing that lifestyle are missing the point.
"I hope people understand we're not condoning this behavior, that we're indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you'll realize what we're saying about these people and this world, because it's an intoxicating one."
Coincidentally, the 39-year-old actor's other major film this year, The Great Gatsby, is also all about the vulgarity of excess and about how having too much can leave a person with nothing in the end.
And after taking on a classic character like Jay Gatsby, DiCaprio was drawn to the modern-day immorality tale told by Belfort.
"The severe honesty in which Jordan Belfort portrayed a hedonistic time in his life on Wall Street," the Golden Globe-nominated star said when asked what attracted him to the project.
"It's rare when someone is unafraid to divulge how dark they went. With all these people on Wall Street who've screwed over so many people since 2008, I became obsessed with playing a character who made me understand the mentality and nature of the seduction of Wall Street and greed. I appreciated his honesty."
And, of course, DiCaprio didn't want to pass up an opportunity to work with Scorsese for a fifth time.
"To get to work with Marty at this point in his career and to make a movie that takes a lot of chances... People—no matter what their attitude is after seeing the film—should understand this is a film that's outside the box and is very difficult to get done in this day and age; it almost never happens. That in its own right is commendable," DiCaprio says.
One of those critics who apparently didn't think The Wolf of Wall Street indicted that culture nearly enough included Christina McDowell, whose father partly inspired Jonah Hill's similarly debauched broker in the film, a best pal and business associate of Belfort.
"Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what?" McDowell wrote in an open letter to the filmmakers that was posted by LA Weekly. "These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees."
"And yet you're glorifying it—you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film?
"You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men."