Wall Street Money Never Sleeps and neither does Michael Douglas

Wall Street Money Never Sleeps – 2010

Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon

Screenplay by Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff based on characters created by Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser

When Oliver Stone made the film Wall Street in 1987, he hoped to shed light on the amoral world of money changing hands in the 80’s.  Little did he know that Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko would become an icon for those who would further plunder the nation’s economy in the ensuing 23 years.  Now, out of jail for 7 years, Gekko seems tame compared to what surrounds him.  But then, looks would be deceiving.

As Jake Moore, Shia LaBeouf is an idealistic trader who finds his world turned upside down as his boss Louis Zabel (Langella) succumbs to financial ruin by jumping in front of a subway train.  This affects him deeply, and he immediately goes home and proposes to his girlfriend, Winnie Gekko.  As you guessed, she is the daughter of Gordon.  Discovering that Zabel’s ruin was

Poor bastard Zabel.

caused by Bretton James (Brolin), who has subsequently profited immensely from it.  Moore sends a ripple through the lines that costs James a good chunk of change.  As he converges on Gordon Gekko, Moore brings Moore into the fold.  The intrigue is palpable as motives converge.

This movie hit at just the right time in our country, and as a result, it probably received more of an audience than it otherwise might.  Does the movie help to explain our current financial crisis?  In some key ways, it does.  The combination of James and Jules Steinhardt (Eli Wallach) gives an example of the unholy marriage between new money and old.  The old money sits back and benefits, telling anecdotal tales, as the new money takes risks with their money and the money of honest investors.  In this proposal, old money can only benefit, while the new money risks both their shares, as well as those of the common man.  Wallach does a marvelous job portraying this elusive evil.  His character is depressing in its effect on our reality.

The narrative is remarkably clear for a movie that deals in finances.  The dots are made clear and slowly and clearly connected.  It is a little simple to isolate James as the bad guy, as the enemies of our country’s financial state are many, and firmly entrenched on both sides of the beltway.  For dramatic purposes, however, this will have to do.

Michael Douglas grabs Gordon Gekko with both hands this time through and he nails his character.  Gordon is a changed, if not necessarily repentant man.  His goals are simple throughout.  He wants to tell his story, get a chunk of change, get back together with his estranged daughter and pass along a little of what he knows.  The Gekko of Wall Street was a one note bag of greed.  He played him with such steel, there was no room for nuance.  This time, it’s almost all nuance.  Almost.  His exchange with Bud Fox is a great barometer in his character’s growth.  Bud, now, as reprised by an older, bloated Charlie Sheen, is a hollowed out shell who thinks having a woman on each arm means something.  Gekko knows better.  He is older, more infirm, but much more alive.

As Moore, LaBeouf is an easy vehicle for the movie.  He is good to the girl, wants to do right by a green experimental idea, and  dedicated to his mentor.  He touches Gekko, works for an even sleazier James but unlike Bud, remains uninfected.  There is no real reason for this, it seems, other than to keep the story moving.  There is so much more data to push through, they have no time to watch the scales tip for the young.

Once bitten, twice as dangerous

As Bretton James, Josh Brolin is similarly limited.  He is like Gekko from the original, with less scenery to chew and fewer one liners.  He has paintings, but is not a collector.  He is an empty shell.  Still, he manages to pull it off with the arrogance to appear worthy of his position.  More effective, with less screen time is Wallach.  Looking extremely gaunt and frail, but dangerous as hell, he has some cute mannerisms and tales of crashes past.  He is extremely easy to overlook, but Gekko does not

Beware the man behind the man.

make that mistake.

Mulligan is endearing and liberal as one would expect Gekko’s daughter to be.  She looks close enough to Sean Young to be her child.  She agonizes and begs Moore not

Beautiful loser? Not so fast...

to go back to her father.  The Oliver Stone of the ’80’s might have left her out to dry, like happens to her mother and brother off-screen.  The modern-day Stone is more sentimental.  Barely.

The direction is sharp, and the story moves along at a brisk pace.  As mentioned before, there is much more information being processed than in the comparatively slow building original.  The tension dissipates towards the end, as it becomes obvious who wins, who loses and who gets a check for being nice.

For all of its glisten and the tenfold development of the series’ star, Wall Street Money Never Sleeps lacks the real bite of reality, and becomes just another movie where the white hats win the day, even if one of the white hats slicks his hair back and wears an Armani suit.  No one loses their innocence this time.  Except the working class.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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