Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Oliver Stone‘s “Wall Street” (1987) was such an impactful film, that it is shown, to this day, in classrooms across the country to teach students the dangers of certain economic thinking. Indeed, the film was quoted heavy in the next generation’s “Boiler Room,” about a group of twentysomething stock traders who kind of missed the massage; Gordon Gekko was not a hero, folks. “Wall Street” really encapsulated the market-is-untouchable glut of the Reagan era with aplomb and damnation. It was moving and clever, and I admire it. Well, it does have some odd performances, and Oliver Stone has never been known for his subtle touch, but I like the film nonetheless.
You would think with the hideous 2008 crash of the economy, Oliver Stone would have something much more insightful and damning to say about current economic trends in the American marketplace, but his sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a strangely mellow affair, free of accusation and vitriol. I understand that Stone has grown and mellowed as a filmmaker over the years (his films teeter on the campy these days), but I expected something a bit more angry from him.
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is just being released from prison for insider trading in the early 1990s. This is clearly a fantasy fulfillment for all of us, as most of the greedmongers responsible for the 2008 crash have not been punished for their avarice. He is ready to live a humble life, and has become successful lecturing to econ student about the horrors of the current day. One of his closely attentive students is twentysomething stock whizkid Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf), who is engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, too cute for a role this meaty). Jake secretly begins meeting with Gekko, and asks him for advice. Jake needs advice: his trading firm is about to explode in the crash, his mother (Susan Sarandon) has found her real estate business tanking, and his father-figure boss (a very good Frank Langella) has not taken the news very well. Langella’s potential replacement (Josh Brolin) is not a very nice guy. The elder statesman of all these proceedings is the 95-year-old Eli Wallach.
Gordon offers Jake some stock advice in exchange for subtle ways to get he and his daughter in the same room. Jake is alternately given wise advice from an old market bear, and blinded by the financial possibilities of a clean-energy plant he wants to invest in. There are several million dollars up for grabs at one point, and you get no points for guessing who gets it.
The film is taut and energetic for its entire running time, despite som forced plot twists near the end. The film goes well out of its way to redeem Gordon Gekko, and seems to be saying that the playful insider trading and soulless betrayals of the Reagan era are small potatoes compared to the games being played today. If that’s the case, though, I would have rather seen Stone go for the jugular, and really damn those in charge of the current mess, rather than showing how the old guard are just as confused as the rest of us. What’s more, Stone, with his characteristic heavy fists, manages to turn a sly story into an obvious one the longer the film unspools.
Where is the angry Oliver Stone of yesteryear? I miss him. I liked “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” just fine. The performances are great, and it treats the audience as if its smart, rather than having to spell everything out for them; the screenplay is refreshingly intelligent, and assumes we’ve all been paying attention to the country’s implosion. Which we have. I got some sharp minds and some clever ploys. But I was hoping for Hellfire.