Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movie Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps *** ½
Directed by:
Oliver Stone.
Written By: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff.
Starring: Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko), Shia LaBeouf (Jake Moore), Josh Brolin (Bretton James), Carey Mulligan (Winnie Gekko), Eli Wallach (Jules Steinhardt), Susan Sarandon (Jake's Mother), Frank Langella (Louis Zabel), Austin Pendleton (Dr. Masters), Vanessa Ferlito (Audrey), Sylvia Miles (Realtor).

For better or for worse, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street has become one of the seminal films of the 1980s. It’s villain, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who most audiences rightly saw as evil, actually inspired many of the people who would go on to work on Wall Street in the years after the film. They treated his infamous Greed is Good speech not as a dire warning of how Wall Street was operating, but as their mantra to inspire them to what they wanted to do. Now 23 years later, we find ourselves in the midst of an economic recession – caused by Wall Street and their greed. So it’s only natural that Stone and Gekko would return to make this sequel.

This film opens in 2008 right before the financial meltdown. Gekko was released from prison after serving 8 years for his various infractions back in 2001 – but in the years since he has not risen to prominence on Wall Street again. Instead he is a pariah – trying to hock his new book about how Wall Street’s current greed puts what he did to shame – and how they are going to destroy the stock market if they don’t stop.

To a certain extent though, this movie follows pretty closely to the template of the first Wall Street. Instead of Charlie Sheen, you have Shia LaBeouf as the young, smart broker who gets close to Gekko – but this time he goes in with his eyes open. He doesn’t idolize Gekko – at least not at first – but wants to use his knowledge of how to screw people over. Instead of Daryl Hannah as Gekko’s old mistress, and Sheen’s current flame, you have Carey Mulligan as Gekko’s estranged daughter, and LaBeouf’s finacee. She wants nothing to do with Gekko, warns LaBeouf of the type of person he really is, but he is too far in. Instead of Terrance Stamp as Gekko’s rival, we have Josh Brolin as the man LeBeouf wants to get even with after he screws over his mentor (Frank Langella, who is not unlike Hal Holbrook in the first film).

Yet for all the similarities to the first film, this one feels like its own film. Yes, Wall Street is still all about greed and games, just as it was the first time, but the stakes have been raised to a huge level. The financial wheelings and dealings here have global consequences, and yet to a certain extent the film is also more intimate as well. Gekko is less caricature, and more human this time around – something that applies to most of the other characters as well. I would say that this film is roughly equal in overall quality to the first film – which was always flawed in my mind anyway.

As a director, Oliver Stone has always liked to experiment – and push things perhaps a little too far. This film is no exception. Perhaps because the film is a sequel to an iconic 1980s film, Stone uses some of the same visual tricks – montages, superimposing, etc, as the first time. But those are the tricks that make the first film feel dated today – and they really don’t work well here either. But they are isolated incidents – when Stone plays the material straight, he is still able to craft visually impressive sequences – like the mesmerizing montage of earrings in this film. He still a master stylist and editor.

In fact, I would say I liked the film a whole lot until the ending – which to me is a little bit of a cop out. It’s like after having a cynical ending – ie the one the film deserved – the filmmakers decided to back off and create a happy one – and it doesn’t quite fit. We have always like Gekko – he is too charming not to like in spite of ourselves – but he doesn’t the ending he gets in this movie. It’s too pat and predictable. But overall, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, despite its godawful title, is a highly enjoyable movie – one of the few long delayed sequels that actually lives up to its predecessor.

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