Movie Review - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
By Matthew Huntler
October 6, 2010
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), but I recall one of its main points was to show a world where morality is second to profit. According to the movie, Wall Street, or perhaps the stock market in general, can sometimes create people who aren’t necessarily in the game to get rich; they’re in it to get richer. It’s not about money, necessarily, but rather the idea of more money while obtaining greater power and stature because no amount is ever enough. Greed becomes an addiction that’s no longer discernible from everyday life. It’s simply there and things like time and people no longer matter because they only slow you down.
That’s what I took from the movie anyway. Granted, it wasn’t the most innovative film and although its message was rather obvious, it was clear and benefited from an inspired performance by Michael Douglas, who manifested greed, corruption and illegitimacy into one nasty, albeit likable, S.O.B.
In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a well-made but mostly unnecessary follow-up, Douglas is back and fulfills more of a supporting role, which is perhaps why the movie doesn’t feel as relevant or biting as its predecessor. Whereas the original was more cynical and dared to make the villain uncharacteristically charming, even enviable, the sequel is more traditional and takes all the usual steps to ensure we see the hero as a good guy who’s a victim of the system. It forces its values upon us and ends in a cheap, mawkish way that left me wondering if Stone had lost his edge.
The movie’s hero is 20-something Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a hotshot stock broker working for an investment firm managed by his longtime friend and mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Jake is naturally level-headed and strongly believes in upstanding causes like alternative energy (he’s helping to fund an offshore fusion project that could pay off in a big way, both financially and environmentally). Louis gives him a $1.5 million bonus and urges him to spend it wisely and to ask his girlfriend, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), to marry him. Louis is a man clearly jaded by the system and sickened by the amount of greed that exists among his contemporaries. He secretly knows his firm is going under because of false rumors started by his competitor, Bretton James (Josh Brolin).
Winnie, as it turns out, is the daughter of Gordon Gekko (Douglas), who’s recently been released from prison after eight years. He’s written a book titled Greed is Good and when Jake meets him at a seminar, he tells Gordon he’s going to marry his daughter and the two strike up a quid pro quo relationship founded on trading. Jake seeks Gordon’s help so he can prove James spread the rumors about Louis’ firm and stands to profit from its demise. In exchange, Jake will attempt to reunite Gordon with Winnie, who’s been estranged from her father following a family tragedy.
More of the plot, I cannot say, except that it gets rather thick and complicated, and involves perhaps one too many characters, including Jake’s mom (Susan Sarandon), whom I didn’t think added much to the story. She’s a real estate agent who depends on her son to stay afloat.
Like the original Wall Street, the sequel contains a lot of convoluted business jargon the movie believes to be more important than we do. But despite its verbose dialogue and supposedly intricate plot, we can still anticipate its overall destination, which is a shame since dramatic thrillers such as this work so much better when you can’t predict their outcome. Still, to Stone’s defense, he doesn’t take the plot lightly, but he does make the mistake of thinking it’s more interesting than the people inhabiting it. If the plot was second to the characters, instead of the other way around, I would have been more involved with the movie. What holds it together are the characters and performances, along with Stone’s typical enthusiasm.
I admit it was nice seeing Douglas play Gekko again. If he were a real person, I’d expect his pitch and demeanor to be about where Douglas places them. The way he carries himself as a man who should feel embarrassed and defeated, but still manages to appear confident at a high-end party at the MET, is impressive. He continues to fire off zippy dialogue like, “If you stop telling lies about me, I’ll stop telling the truth about you.” Not only does Douglas urge us to root for Gekko again, but he entertains us doing it.
LaBeouf is good, too, and despite his sometimes show-off personality, which many feel is an extension of his real-life persona, he is well cast and creates tense drama with the other cast members, especially Douglas and Mulligan. I know a lot of people who find LaBeouf annoying, but he’s convincing here and fits the part well because he and Jake are so alike.
Overall, Stone infuses the movie with enough energy and suspense to keep us alert and the character dynamics generate some real emotion, but the biggest letdown remains the artificial ending. Everything wraps up too nicely and the movie loses credibility. I’m okay with an upbeat conclusion, but I’d rather the movie be realistic than idealistic. Perhaps Stone wanted us to leave the theater feeling more hopeful than cynical. That’s noble, but I can’t help but think Stone has gone soft, especially when the times and subject matter call for him to be the most assaulting.