Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) dir. Oliver Stone
Starring: Shia Laboeuf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella
By Alan Bacchus
Usually these ‘nostalgic’ sequels don’t work. That is, films that continue characters and stories years atfer the original. The Godfather Part III for example, or Texasville (Bogdanovich’s sequel to The Last Picture Show), or The Color of Money. Well, it’s not so much that they don’t work, because these three films are actually pretty good, but considering the immense prestige of the originals they are following, the extraordinary expectations are always too high to live up to.
Wall Street is probably the best of this lot. A film which manages to eschew the nostalgia factor and create a stand alone story relevant to it’s time, without being reliant on the previous work. In this day an age, Stone and company set the world at the time of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the government bailout and those volitile few months which saw some of the biggest financial institutions in the world go out of business. Like he did with JFK, Nixon and W, Stone expertly interweaves compelling characters within real world political conflicts for maximum dramatic effect.
The connector between the 1987 version and Wall Street and this 2010 Wall Street is Gordon Gekko, the bombastic caricature of predatory investors of the 1980’s as realized in his Oscar-winning performance by Michael Douglas. The opening is a comical wink to the audience showing Gekko being released from prison in 2001 and accepting the possessions he went in with, including his giant boxy ‘cellular’ phone.
The main story takes place in 2008 following a talented investor, Jake Moore (LeBoeuf), who’s interest and experience in energy industries has made him a fast ladder climber. In fact, his mentor Louis Zabel (Langella), founder of a big investor firm not unlike Lehman Bros, has given him a bonus cheque of $1.5million. But when Zabel finds himself crashed and stomped out of business by his competitor Bretton James (Brolin), owner of a rival investment firm, Moore finds himself out of job, near broke, and stressing our his new fiance Winnie (Mulligan). Soon James comes knocking on Moore’s door and the two, despite their conflicts over Zabel, work together, until the subprime mortgage occurs rendering them bitter enemies, on track for a bitter stock market battle not unlike the frenetic market rally which closes the original film.
Moore’s girlfriend Winnie is also Gordon Gekko’s estranged daughter. For good and bad Moore tries to engineer a get together to mend their relationship, which means Moore having to ‘trust’ the notorious swindler whose motto is ‘Greed is good.’
Well, there’s actually a few other fun connectors which are more subtle. One of the visual techniques for instance, the rapid fire split screen effect which helps craft the fantastic montage scenes, are expertly moved over into this film. One of the thrilling aspects of Wall Stone was the cacophany of technical information thrown at us. The schemes of Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko are crafted with perfect pace in these montage sequences. As with the original these montages have enough of a dizzying effect without being confusing.
Listen closely and you’ll notice the soundtrack consists of primarily David Byrne/Brian Eno songs, who contributed some memorable music in the original film. Byrne’s voice isn’t quite what it used to be, but it sufficiently enhances the tone and changing moods of the film.
Shia Leboeuf gives one of his most mature performances. If you were scared off by the possibilities that the Leboeuf/Douglas dynamic would tread on the familiar hot shot/mentor relationship of films like ‘The Color of Money’, Stone admirably sidesteps these expectations. Shia’s portrayal as a gifted and passionate investor holds it’s own, and trumps Charlie Sheen’s arguably weak and one-note performance as Bud Fox. Carey Mulligan is terrific once again as the tortured daughter of Gekko. Her emotional reconciliation with Gekko on the steps outside the restaurant in which the meet for the first time in 20 years is one of the best and most emotional scenes of the year, of ANY film.
But the most satisfying moment is another conversation, which I won't reveal, but makes for the type of closure all Wall Street fans needed to have. Thanks Oliver Stone for making it happen.