Film Review – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
In 1987, Gordon Gekko famously told us that greed was good. Flash forward to the present, and it appears that greed has turned in to the norm. With director Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street (1987), he presented us with a cautionary tale about the risks of one’s obsession with wealth. In his newest film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), he shows us the affects of that obsession, how it can break a person’s life, and how it can hurt the people we care for the most. The first film revolved around the Reagonomics of the 80’s, here we deal with a present day market on the brink of collapse. It is the link with what is happening today that made this one of the more fascinating films of the year.
Michael Douglas returns to the role that won him an Oscar, this time as a broken, regretful, and seemingly penniless Gekko. What a name, “Gekko.” It makes you think of the reptile, and its relationship to the snake, which I’m sure wasn’t an accident. It’s interesting to see the character change nearly a generation away from the screen: his face has become lined, the hairs on his head a little greyer, the sound of his voice a little more cracked. But underneath the exterior, we still see the charisma and charm that made him such a seductive character. The beginning of the film finds him newly freed from jail for the crimes he committed in the first, with an empty money clip and a twenty-year old mobile phone as his only possessions. Gekko spends his time selling his book, giving talks, and trying to reunite with his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) who, interestingly enough, is dating a Wall Street investor named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf).
Moore plays a little like the Bud Fox character of the first film. He’s an up and coming hotshot stockbroker, fresh off making his first million. The difference about Jake compared to nearly every other stock market character is that he actually has a heart of gold. He wants to provide for and marry Winnie, get a buyer to invest in an environmentally safe fusion company, and ultimately still make a few bucks for himself. That is, until his firm goes under from the stock market meltdown, and his mentor (played, magnificently, by Frank Langella) is “removed” from the company, does this become a revenge film, as Moore seeks the help of Gekko to expose the truth of the investment CEO Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who bought out the company, and with whom Gekko also shares some spiteful feelings towards.
Oliver Stone wraps these complicated story threads together in a movie that is rich in its visuals and quick in its pacing. At just over two hours, the film never seems to drag. The camera flings across the environments with brisk pace and bold bravado; in an early scene the camera watches Moore walk in to a building, and then in one unbroken shot, spirals all the way to the top floor where he sits in on a business meeting, subtlety is not one of the film’s concerns. We see numbers, dollars signs, and investment figures race across the faces of those intensely keeping track of them. At certain points Stone uses the city skyline to reflect the up and down status of the stock market. We jump from New York City, to London, and to the Netherlands effortlessly. The film uses jump cuts, quick pans, split screens, slow motion, nearly every trick in the filmmaking book to reflect the over consumption and greed of its characters.
Most interesting is how Stone mixes the story with what really happened with the 2008 economic meltdown, exposing the criminal undertakings of Wall Street’s biggest fat cats. This is reflected in one of the film’s best lines, where Bretton James is asked what monetary figure he needs to attain to stop his need for wealth, to which he responds, “More.” There is a lot of dialogue here that may only be understood after taking a graduate Economics class, but despite that we never feel like the film is leaving us behind. We know that the bad people are doing bad things, and that the victims are usually good people that had no way of controlling their financial outcomes. The worst part is that the film only gives us a glimpse of how this business works, without a doubt there are bigger fish out there doing the exact same thing that these characters are doing, and getting away with it.
And through it all, there’s Gordon Gekko. What an interesting character Stone has crafted, this is a person that believes strongly in the American Dream, but takes it to an extreme level. The strongest parts of the film revolve around him, and his attempt to reconnect with his daughter. I believe this is a good development in the character’s arc, Stone could have taken the easy route and made Gekko the exact same character as the first film, but here we see him truly look at himself and re-evaluate his beliefs. Will Gordon Gekko really make the change needed to bring his family back together, or will he fall back to his usual ways of putting money in front of everything else? Stone takes a fearless turn in answering these questions, and although many people may not buy in to it at the end, I found myself going right along with it.
With awards season coming in to full gear and a number of good films set to be released, I feel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may get lost within the shuffle. It’s too bad, because this is a very strong film about some very interesting characters. This is a surprisingly good movie about what is happening right now, within the back rooms of tall skyscrapers, where villains make deals behind business suits and slicked back hair. Not everyone is going to enjoy the film as much I did, the ending may be a little too conventional and neatly wrapped to be believable, and I can see that. However, the direction, visual flair, and good emotional investment make this one to see. Just like those bubbles at the end of the film, we are glued to the characters here, watching as they make their way up to the top of the mountain; anxious to see when their fortunes will eventually pop.
Final Grade: A-