Silver Screen Reflections – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

It’s been twenty three years since Gordon Gekko stood tall and proud and announced to the world that greed, for want of a better word, is good. Oliver Stone’s expertly crafted portrayal of the 1980s Wall Street culture was meant to shock and show the world the dark underbelly of capitalism and how man is fundamentally driven by greed and desire. And it worked too, Wall Street was a marvellous movie that exposed some of the charlatan practices of the corporate culture. Perversely it also served as a rally call for the aspiring nouveau-riche who saw in the movie the very foundation of how they could make their millions in the financial game. This was of course entirely unintentional, and the fact that countless modern finance heads cite Wall Street as their inspiration is a source of great sorrow, for both Stone and the world at large. This new generation oversaw the biggest boom of all time, and the biggest bust, and it is this story that Stone returns to with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Will an audience so desperately weary of headlines denouncing the corrupt be willing to fork out to be told it all once again?

It’s 2001 and Gordon Gekko is about to be released from jail. Emerging to a changed world he cuts a lonely figure, a man diminished of the swagger and bravado that personified his existence. Cut to 2008 and it’s a very different Gekko. Back in the green thanks to his best-selling book “Is Greed Good?” he appears a changed man, outlining his vision of the impeding global economic collapse. Conversely his daughter Winnie, and her soon to be husband Jake, are  dreaming of a brighter future. Jake is a hot-shot young trader working at one of New York’s most prestigious brokerage house, while Winnie has turned her back on the financial pursuit and is more concerned with saving the world. She has abandoned her father and wants nothing to do with him. Jake on the other hand is intrigued by the wily old fox and would very much like to reconcile the pair. Juxtapose this quest for family unity against the global meltdown and you have Wall Street 2.

Michael Douglas is Gordon Gekko, and it is a delight to see his slow recovery to predator-like territory, stalking around with a shit-eating grin and a manic desire to recapture old glories. Slimy and seductive he has lost none of his charm. Shia LeBeouf tries valiantly to match Douglas, but comes off as over-eager. It’s a shame really as he shows glimpses of real talent here in a role that suits his boundless energy but is designed from the outset to enable the rebirth of Gekko. Carey Mulligan makes the most of an underwritten and underdeveloped character. It’s a great pity that such a talented actress is used mainly as a plot device. Frank Langella gives a great turn as LaBeouf’s mentor, managing to be warm, funny and a little bit sad as the only truly likeable character in the whole thing. Josh Brolin has a strong turn as the power and money hungry, immoral corporate exec that is just made to be the villain. He rises above the caricature with a confident and believable performance. And 95-year-old Eli Wallach is strange and wonderful in a minor role.

Oliver Stone never really wanted to make a sequel, but the global financial crisis made it both timely and relevant to do so. It’s unfortunate then the weariness has set in with the audience and that most are too used to seeing real world evil corporate types for this to have the impact the original did. The movie is over long and severely lagging in places, in fact it kind of feels like a two-parter with a definite break before and after the initial meltdown. From a technical standpoint the movie is really good, with crisp cinematography and a sweeping score. However it is badly let down by the creaking plot and lack of any real message other than power corrupts. There is a sleight of hand but it’s a little too obvious to be the sucker-punch that it needs to be. The domestic drama falls flat, with Mulligan’s character a little too accommodating of her fathers indiscretions to make it relatable.

Ultimately a muddled, slow and unnecessary sequel that is saved by stunning visuals and strong performances. This cast and the subject matter deserved better.