Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Stone Markets

         
 

24 September 2010| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Excessive but bullish entertainment. Michael Douglas is at once a reformed and the same old Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which after him, it throws in newly introduced characters rather than recycling old ones. The original “Wall Street” (1987) is among the most brilliant and shrewd of all big business films. Oliver Stone has returned to co-write and direct the sequel, and he restores all the juicy jargon, but muffs the flow with unnecessary scenes. Stone lets his characters get sucked into greed and there’s lots of talk on big numbers and big losses. There are shares of relationship turmoil, too, much of it integrated suitably, but the surplus of conflicts turns this into a long movie.

The film is likely to receive lots of negative reviews by pretentiously cerebral critics that want to trump it in order to make themselves sound like brighter, more tech market-academic geniuses. The film is likely to be disliked by any audience that has a preemptive dislike for anything that is by Oliver Stone. Also, you may ask, does the material get compromised by a few patronizing commercial elements? Well duh. Hello, Shia LeBeouf and daddy-daughter issues.

With a prologue opening in 2001, Gekko is released from prison after an eight year sentence on insider trading and securities fraud charges; he has retrievable items such as a silk handkerchief, money clip, Rolex gold watch and an ancient mobile phone as heavy as a barbell. A limo pulls up and we think, along with him, that it is for him. The snide joke is that the limo and an entourage are meant for a rapper also released on the same day.

Jump forward seven years and we are in 2008, and – beware the hokey intros and cumbersome David Byrne soundtrack – young trader Jake Moore (LaBeouf) is smooching it up with Winnie (Carey Mulligan), the estranged daughter to Gekko. Jake’s mentor is his boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) of the investment bank Keller Zabel investments that is supposed to resemble the real Bear Stearns, and its collapse. After the bumpy exposition, the movie starts to get good again as soon as we start seeing the PowerPoint graphics and boiler room madness, although this boiler room has changed its appearance into something sleeker in comparison to 23-years ago.

Within a few well-played scenes, Louis becomes a fallen man and Jake blows his huge commission earnings after playing the stock market on margin. What sucks though is that Stone seems to forget that Jake has lost a ton of money and just lets his character shrug it off, like a winter coat in spring.

Nemesis Bretton James (Josh Brolin, a swarthy, thrill-seeker rich man performance) makes sure Louis doesn’t get a bailout so his financial empire can buy it up for fractions of its worth. Jake is ruined, too, and he hates Bretton for all that is merciless and unfeeling. But when Jake gets a job proposition from Bretton, he takes it, mostly out of self-preservation (who else will hire him after his last job’s fiasco?) Meanwhile, Jake seeks out Gordon Gekko on advice on his impending wedding to his daughter and on finance, and they develop a “trading favors” relationship.

Tucked into two hours and ten minutes is a lot of savvy financial talk that incorporates contemporary issues of bailouts and sector bubble bursts, of a nation addicted to borrowing on credit and a nation with nothing left to sell, of banks selling illusions of an idea and selling unproven technology for fast boom bucks. Jake though thinks he is ahead of the curve on fusion technology and seeks capital investors. He also thinks he has won Bretton on his side. But there are no moral allegiances only moral hazards when it comes to money and investment, and the film explores that meaning of economic self-interests.

The movie stuffs in a lot while attempting to be a social mirror to recent economic history. Gekko gives a lecture not to Teldar paper on how “Greed is good” but instead to a forum of college students on how “Leverage is bad.” In order to create believable transitions to explain and justify character, Stone just adds new scenes and new developments on top of old ones. His writing is not redundant, just extraneous. Added annoyance: I really can’t believe how Jake too quickly forgets the burn of losing his big commission. It really is a big deterrent to the film; an aggravation. Somehow I like enough of the rest of the movie to [slightly] forgive that. It could be the deciding factor for many others of why “Money Never Sleeps” fails.

There is a perceptively snotty charity banquet halfway into the film. Rich men from all over seem to attend in order to find their rivals and cut them down to size. Rich women are competing with each other in fashionable appearance. The feeling is a certain egomaniacal vacuity in the sense that nobody cares what the charity is actually for. Stone dramatizes how the charity benefit is just an excuse for a Gatsby party soaking in greed and narcissism. It also entrances Charlie Sheen, the best cameo in the film and his transformation after twenty-plus years sums up to more than just a conceit.

Outshining the rest in charisma and swagger, Douglas gives a performance that should prove durable with passing years. He is beyond caricature. Another sequel could easily put him front and center, although good box office returns or not, this is probably the last “Wall Street” movie.

133 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

DRAMA / ECONOMICS / FALL SCHOLASTICS

Film Cousins: “Wall Street” (1987); “Boiler Room” (2000); “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005); “Up in the Air” (2009).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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