Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Oliver Stone

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

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and thematic elements)

Running Time: 2:13

Release Date: 9/24/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 23, 2010

The villainous Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is trumped in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone's timely but somehow irrelevant sequel to his 1987 indictment of Wall Street excess and the criminal activity it engenders. "I'm small time compared to these crooks," Gekko observes of the players in the 2008 global economic crisis. The insider trading scheme that landed him in jail for almost a decade is nothing compared to what he dubs the real "evil empire."

In a subversive way, that is the point: Gordon Gekko is a decent enough guy when stood up next to the current wave of Wall Street crooks. Unfortunately, he turns out to be more human, even without the comparison, than that unapologetic, greedy, egoistic, quick-tempered, sociopathic thief we once loved to hate.

In his place is Bretton James (Josh Brolin), CEO of some sort of investment firm who gossips another trading company into bankruptcy, bets on its failure, and scavenges the remnants on the cheap from the Federal Reserve. His actions cause the ruin of Wall Street icon Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), and his protégé Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) decides to take revenge in similar fashion. James likes the kid's imagination, guts, and skill, so he takes Jake under his wing.

Meanwhile, Gekko is on the sidelines, part Machiavellian string-puller but more so as commentator on the poorly defined background of the oncoming financial meltdown. The rest of his role is of remorseful parent to daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who has not spoken to her Gekko since the death of her brother to a drug overdose. Since he wasn't around to help, Winnie put much of the blame on her father. She is also Jake's girlfriend.

Screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff seem to have crammed Gekko into an already set plot. He is a cultural icon, not an active participant. We see him lecture on his new book, now asking "Is greed good?" He's an aged rock star in the shaky financial world, a name that at once lends itself to cautionary advice on reckless investing but doesn't have the same influence it once had. He rents (a lush penthouse apartment), rides the subway, and greets the new movers and shakers who have no idea who he is. He isn't invited to the galas anymore, partially due to his criminal background but, perhaps, also in part because he's taken to spoiling the bigger party.

It's an intriguing take on a character we assumed we knew, and if Loeb and Schiff had stayed true to that redemptive arc, the new outlook might have held. Instead, as we suspect from the very start, Gekko is not entirely forthright—shaking hands with fingers crossed, saying one thing and doing another, and feigning to know less than he actually does.

Taking up most of the story is Jake, a paradoxically naïve idealist with a cutthroat business sense, who has his mind and heart set on finding investors for a pet project: a renewable energy source based on lasers. On James' payroll, he's attempting to get money with one hand while pulling out the knife with the other (A flash of Zabel's weary face in the bathroom mirror after Jake talks business with James ridiculously drives that point home). His realtor mother (Susan Sarandon) is buying up more properties than she can sell (In the market at that time, anything more than zero is too many), and his father is dead. He's on his way to marrying Winnie while secretly meeting with her hated father on the side. "Maybe you'll both end up with a father," Gekko undeservedly psychoanalyzes.

Apart from Gekko, whose history contradicts the new, improved man and who undergoes at least one too many shifts in intent, the characters are vehicles for market vernacular and talking points. Gone is the simple parable form and incisive tone of the Stone's original film. There are lessons here, summed up in words and actions. First, people are a "mixed bag" of good and bad (delivered by one who's proven time and again to mostly be the latter), and second, money fixes everything, even betrayals of the shakiest trust.

Whether it's fear of coming across as too political or the problem of dramatically defining a complex event, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a neutered glance into the cause of problems with which we are still coping today.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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