The Wolf of Wall Street: 'Not sure if view of bankers can sink any lower'

Wolf Of Wall Street

We are just minutes into Martin Scorsese's financial black comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street, when the investment banker next to me starts slowly shaking his head.

On the screen Leonardo DiCaprio's character, the crooked stockbroker Jordan Belfort, is waxing lyrical about his millions, his cars and his trophy wife and combining those two latter passions in a characteristically prurient scene.

"This is what gives the City a bad name," says my viewing companion, one of a group of senior City bankers gathered to compare their own career experiences with the excesses in Scorsese's film, released in UK cinemas on Thursday.

As the story romps on through lavish beachside parties, office orgies and increasingly criminal dealings, the head shaking and seat-shuffling intensifies.

"I hope that people see this in a historical context and not in the current context," says the same banker, who worked in a big investment bank on Wall Street in the 90s before relocating to London.

As the credits roll after almost three hours of Belfort's odyssey in the underworld he concludes: "I would be disappointed if I had paid money to see that because it just isn't real."

The title fingers Wall Street, but this tale is not about the investment banking world of corporate clients our viewer works in: "They sold investments to widows and orphans and Jo Schmo on Main Street," he adds.

The bond market expert in our party is less quick to distance his industry from Scorsese's tale. "We are only five years on from the crisis, so I wouldn't pretend it was ancient history," he insists. For this banker, in the industry since 1981, several elements of the film ring true: conferences in glamorous locations, drunken lunches and the rambling pep talks before crucial deals.

The wild chanting for the"Wolf" by enraptured staff was reportedly echoed on real-life Wall Street when Morgan Stanley's John Mack returned to the bank in 2005 after a stint at Credit Suisse First Boston. More recently there have been accounts of trading floors in thrall to former Barclays boss Bob Diamond's rallying cries.

The junkets and lunches are now largely in the past, says the bond man.

So is he worried about this latest take on the criminal side of banking will misrepresent the City? "I am not sure people's opinions of bankers can sink a lot lower, but the comedy makes it appear to me a work of fiction," he says.

The fund manager next to him reckons it will be grist to the mill for banker bashers: "I imagine that people who are pissed off about bankers will read into it what they want to because it plays to lots of prejudices. But anyone vaguely familiar with the financial services industry would see it as a historical parody," says the 56-year-old, also in the markets since the early 80s.

He questions how the virtually non-stop drug-taking and drinking tallies with an industry known for early starts. "There aren't that many people who can cope with large amounts of alcohol and get up in the morning and go to work," he says. Meanwhile our man from Wall Street remembers being asked to pee into a cup for random tests designed to identify the drug-assisted bankers. Terence Winter, the writer who adapted Belfort's book for the screen has said the film is proof of "how history repeats itself, how we are not learning from our mistakes." He told the Hollywood Reporter: "It is just holding a mirror up to what is still going on."

Our fund manager feels the story of greed and fraud at Stratton Oakmont brokerage is stretched well beyond the realm of possibility: "In reality people working in finance today are working in an immensely regulated environment."

Strong female characters are few and far between in the film and if our little grouping of 2014 bankers is anything to go by, not that much has changed.

Our one female viewer, a former City lawyer, says the profane banter in the film is familiar from trading floors – but she too thinks the movie is an overt parody. "They are packed in like sardines in the trading floor scenes. That just adds to the fiction," she says.

The banker viewing panel reckons that audience attitudes have done an about-turn since Michael Douglas portrayed Gordon Gekko In Wall Street, back in 1987. The law-bending Gekko was regarded less as an villain and more as an inspiration, says the former Wall Street man. "If you look at Wall Street and Gordon Gekko, that had an effect of 'God, I want to do that. Greed is good.

"Now, if you look at the younger generation and they are confronted with this, they treat it very differently. They have been sensitized to what is unacceptable."

So are there no Gordon Gekkos or Jordan Belforts in this generation?

"The people making immense amounts of money now are the hedge fund managers, who are on the edges of regulation, becoming regulated," says our fund manager. "But even they are not flogging stuff to little old ladies. And they don't look like the cast of Wolf of Wall Street. They are usually boffinish and work incredibly hard."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Katie Allen, for The Guardian on Wednesday 15th January 2014 17.49 Europe/London

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