The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed By: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Cristin Milioti, and Rob Reiner

I've always believed that the Academy is too stuffy for its own good.  Mostly comprised of old white men, it doesn't exactly embrace the cutting edge films of the day.  You can look to Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender getting ignored for their great work in Shame two years ago.  You can look to Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and the great work in his movie that was largely snubbed last year (with the noted exceptions of acting nods for Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams).  This year, you'll be able to look to Martin Scorsese's latest collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street.  The fact that Scorsese was lectured earlier this week by an Academy member on the film's explicit content after a screening says enough.  My opinion of the film is a little different from that of Scorsese's Academy heckler, however.  This fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street is undoubtedly their best to date and the best movie of 2013.

Married to a gorgeous blonde named Naomi (Margot Robbie) and living on a luxurious 7-acre estate, it's safe to say that New York native Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) of the Bronx has done well for himself.  He founded the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.  This year alone, he's made $49 million dollars on commission for stock trades executed.  Since he's not quite making $1 million a week, however, Jordan is a little down about the figure.  Nonetheless, he lives a life full of debauchery.  Though a drug and sex addict, the substance on which Jordan is hooked the most is money, the one that funds this obscene lifestyle.  Jordan has gotten to this point in life by not taking no for an answer on sales calls with his clients.  He’s done so by staying on the phone to make a sale until his customer either buys or dies.

Starting out his career at L.F. Rothschild working for Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan's luck quickly sours.  It just so happens that his first day on Wall Street is Black Monday.  With the 1987 stock market crash, L.F. Rothschild closes its doors for good, and Jordan finds himself out of job.  Though his time at the firm is brief, he does learn how to pitch a stock and how Wall Street works.  At the recommendation of his first wife Teresa (Cristin Milioti), Jordan gets a job as a stockbroker at the Investor Center, a small shop that shovels penny stocks to poor, unassuming investors.  He sees a big opportunity here though.  While the commission on a blue chip stock hovers at a lowly 1% of the sale, the commission on the sale of penny stocks can be as high as 50%.  After brief success at the Investor Center making $72,000 a month, Jordan goes out on his own with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) to found Stratton Oakmont, a firm shoveling penny stocks to the wealthiest 1%.  The money starts flowing quickly in this new business venture, and Jordan starts to get the attention of many, including a journalist at Forbes and FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler).

"Sell me this pen" will become an iconic line in cinematic history.  It will be emblematic of the greatness of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and the art of selling garbage to unsuspecting investors.  Chock full of prostitutes, cocaine, and ludes, Scorsese's raunchy black comedy may just be his finest film since Goodfellas.  Given my love of both Casino and The Departed, I don't make this statement lightly.  This raucous affair is richly entertaining cinema at its absolute best, but it's also biting commentary on the excesses of Wall Street.  To show us what the world of finance looks like at its most shameful, Scorsese simply shines a light on the true story of Jordan Belfort and all the debauchery at Stratton Oakmont.  This is a very fitting tale to tell at this particular moment in American history as socioeconomic inequality soars.  It also turns out that it’s one funny story about greed.

Interestingly enough, the film that is arguably Scorsese's best since Goodfellas is also the film most similar to it stylistically.  From the moment The Wolf of Wall Street begins with narration by Leonardo DiCaprio, I can't help but think of Ray Liotta's opening narration in Goodfellas.  Like Scorsese's cinematic jewel, we're delighted with great musical selections such as "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!", “Goldfinger”, and “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”.  Pop culture references to relics of the 80’s and 90’s such as The Equalizer, Family Matters, and Mad Max are everywhere to be found throughout the film as well.  Most similarly, the rise and fall of corporate mobster Jordan Belfort offers a familiar plot structure, one that reminds us of the rise and fall of actual mobster Henry Hill.  Moreover, Scorsese crafts a fine piece of American cinema here with The Wolf of Wall Street in the tradition of Goodfellas.

In his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio has hit his stride.  After a warm-up earlier this year in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio finds his groove portraying Jordan Belfort, a symbol of greed and wealth in the most corrupt way fathomable.  While he certainly brings some great dramatic acting to the table as this tortured yet devilish soul, what's most impressive about DiCaprio's performance is its comedic aspect.  After all, The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark comedy.  It's incredible to watch DiCaprio stretch himself and really become this physical comedian on par with his robust supporting cast.  It's most notable during all the crazy speeches he gives at the office to boost morale and all the nights his character spends high on ludes.  All in all, DiCaprio’s performance gives the movie an infectious charm that simply can't be denied.

DiCaprio has an outstanding supporting cast as well.  Following up great performances in Moneyball and Django Unchained, Jonah Hill continues to shine here in The Wolf of Wall Street as Donnie Azoff.  Bringing another colorful character to life and delivering loads of laughs, Hill is beginning to become a staple of the awards season.  It's only a matter of time before he strikes gold.  For her part as Belfort's second wife Naomi, Margot Robbie really steps up as an actress.  The Pan Am star gives a fiery, sexy performance.  What's most interesting about her character is that she matures as Jordan and Donnie remain lude-addicted infants.  Throughout the film, Robbie subtly transitions her character from this knockout blonde to a protective mother of two.  Rob Reiner and Jean Dujardin also give outstanding comedic performances as Jordan's father Mad Max Belfort and the slippery Swiss banker Jean-Jacques Saurel.

While the prunes of the world will see The Wolf of Wall Street as one big orgy full of cocaine, ludes, and $100 bills, Scorsese's latest movie tragically and comically highlights the lack of nobility in wealth, especially when that wealth is built from deception.  Brilliantly directed and performed, this movie deserves plenty of love from the Academy over the next several months.  Because the Academy is full of stuffy old prunes who will offer just the opposite, we at STMR are here to show Marty's latest the praise and acclaim it deserves.  The Wolf of Wall Street gets a sober rating.  Jordan Belfort can sell moviegoers a pen any day of the week.