The movie is based on a book by the same title by a nasty piece of work named Jordan Belfort, who was convicted of swindling investors out of more than $100 million while he ran a pump and dump brokerage operation that went by the by the improbably WASP-y sounding name Stratton Oakmont.
(Read More: Just Who IS Jordan Belfort?)
He's supposedly reformed himself—although the book is at least as much a celebration of his debauchery as anything else. The book is full of detailed descriptions of sex, drugs and swindling. And, as they say, a good con-man knows how to make a buck going into the scam and another coming out.
At least Belfort can only keep 50 cents on the dollars he makes "coming out." He's obligated to pay the investors he scammed 50 percent of his gross income until they receive $100 million. Even if this movie is the smash hit of the century, Belfort's not going to ever manage that. So you can see the movie without feeling guilty—or feeling less guilty, since some of the money should go to the victims.
The film appears to be deeply committed to what you might call the Immoral Market Hypothesis: markets are irrational, manipulated and deliver the greatest rewards to those least enthralled by ethics. This, too, is part of the formal aspect of Hollywood depictions of Wall Street, easily recognizable from Oliver Stone's "Wall Street," "Boiler Room" and "American Psycho."
It makes no difference that this story is based on truth. There are plenty of true stories in the world. Something about this story was so appealing to Scorsese that he optioned the book before it was even published. This wasn't just a true story about Wall Street Scorsese wanted to tell. It was the story—true or not—he wanted to tell.