With the release tomorrow of The Wolf of Wall Street on DVD and Blue-ray it seemed a good idea to revisit this Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio stock market Goodfellas. The original Goodfellas, which was also based on a true story, was about wise-guy Henry Hill who could not be a “made man” with the mafia because of the non-Italian blood in his veins. Hill turned informant when he was caught by the same law enforcement agency – the FBI – that took down Jordan Belfort, aka the “wolf” of wall street.
In essence both films are about an “exclusive” club. In the 1990 gangster film, Hill was a hanger-on, a peripheral bad guy who got his hands dirty doing all sorts of illegal activities. In this 2013 film about a higher class criminal, Belfort is the self acknowledged leader of the pack. This “super” salesman ran the show and learned his trade back when Wall Street was money on the hoof in terms of stock trading. Sadly for Jordan, by the time he got his license to trade, the stock market shut down.
In the film, Belfort’s wife steers him toward a job selling “penny stocks.” This charismatic and overly capable sales expert, turns these “worthless stocks” into a fortune. He starts his own business trading in these little pieces of little companies and makes all those who work for him rich.
These nuevo riche enjoy the lifestyle of rockstars, drugs, booze and all the women they can handle. There are female members of this stock market boom, but the film focusses on the male side of things. All the better to remake Goodfellas into a story about The Wolf of Wall Street.
Scorsese gathered together some of the most impressive names in Hollywood to make this story about a man who made his fortune illegally. Matthew McConaughey, in perhaps the best scene stealing cameo in cinema history, is the man who starts Jordan on his epic journey. Jonah Hill as Belfort’s second in command and the one who scores the rapidly diminishing supply of Quaaludes for his boss. Margot Robbie as the woman who becomes the second Mrs. Belfort and last, but by no means least, the delightful Joanna Lumley the English aunt who helps Jordan hide his money.
A short nod needs to made to two other actors who brought something to the party, Rob Reiner as Belfort senior and Jon Favreau in his minuscule role as Manny Riskin, the man who tells Jordan to cut a deal before it’s too late. It could be said that Favreau could have slept-walked through his role as “nay-sayer,” but Reiner proves he still has the chops to turn in a great comic performance.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is DiCaprio. The man can do comedy very well. Of course, the actor is part of a winning combo here. Scorsese and Leonardo have worked successfully together before and there is a reason that these two keep coming back to play again. The biggest shame about the film is that DiCaprio was stiffed at the Oscars this year after a performance that demanded a little gold statuette for someone in this film.
The film did net Leonardo a Golden Globe for best actor, but the Academy Award is still actively snubbing the actor. Everything about this movie works, the music, the set designs, the lighting and the cinematography all come together to make this long film seem much shorter. There are no wasted moments. There are no places in the movie where things seem to drag and it maintains an almost breakneck pace throughout.
The move to smaller screen, such as a television home theater system versus a huge at-the-cinema screen does not spoil the power or enjoyment of this film. The Wolf of Wall Street may be the stock market Goodfellas but the absence of Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro means nothing in the scheme of things, Leonardo DiCaprio with his ever growing band of money makers are just as entertaining without all the bloodshed. A great rollicking roller-coaster ride of hectic fun.
By Michael Smith