September 30, 2010
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13)
Oliver Stone returns to the world of finance and the saga of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a sequel to the 1987 movie.
Which, if you’ll remember, started out as a sort-of interesting bit of commentary on the mid-1980s and turned into a place for obnoxious frat-boy types to go to get dialogue that they could use to increase their schmuckiness levels. I remember seeing the “Greed is good” speech on posters in the dorm rooms of college acquaintances.
When the movie starts, it’s 2001 and Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is just being released from a stint in prison — a long-ish one, based on the cell phone they return to him, one that looks like a walkie-talkie from an old war movie. Flash forward to 2008, and Gekko has written a book (Is Greed Good? — gaaah) and managed to get himself speaking and TV engagements, spouting empty-suit nonsense about the badness credit and the housing bubble. (The movie pretends that all of his yackity-yack is brilliant and insightful, which is both exhausting and angering as it is all — and would have been even in 2008 — so very stale.)
But Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a remarkable wienerhead of a trader, thinks Gekko’s every word is gold, even though Gordon Gekko is the much-hated estranged father of his fiancée, Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), a sad-sack but well-dressed reporter or something at an investigative journalism website. (Don’t even get me started…can’t untangle hatred…Amy want smash.) Jake is working for Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), the head of a Lehman Brothers-like firm that is about to collapse under the weight of its toxic assets. When the word starts to spread that Zabel’s investment bank is going down, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), partner in an investment firm named, like, Schmoldman Schmachs or something, hastens its demise and thus, in the eyes of the movie, is responsible for the fate of Jake’s mentor Zabel. And so Jake, previously concerned mostly with getting a green energy company the investment he believes it deserves but won’t get if the financial world is coming to an end, now also takes on the cause of getting revenge on Bretton for his dirty dealings with Zabel. And who better to turn to for advice on revenge than dear old step-dad-to-be, Gordon Gekko. Gekko decides to help Jake out because Jake may be his way back in with Winnie, the daughter who wasn’t even there to pick him up when he got out of prison.
No one was there, actually, and at one point, Winnie reminds Gordon that the Gekko name doesn’t mean anything anymore. What a much more interesting story that would have been — a fallen man, sleazily trying to regain his status. Or, a fallen man, trying to figure out what his path should be. Or a villain returning to villainy. Or, you know, any kind of coherent character. Instead, Stone sets up Gekko as a brilliant anti-hero — the guy who saw the crash coming and used it to make sure his old enemies got theirs — as well as the repentant dad as well as the sleaze, a villain but not the ultimate villain. He perhaps likes him too much not to let him be the star but wants him to be interesting or to keep you guessing or something so he pads out the pure id he clearly wants Gekko to be with a bunch of packing peanuts that suggest a dozen potential other characters. It is infuriating, particularly if you don’t find Douglas or the Gekko character as charming as the movie thinks you do. And by “you” I mean “me,” as in “me, I can’t stand this guy.” It’s not the villainy or the moral ambiguity — that can be fun. It’s the smugness — not of the character, per se, but the smugness that the movie has about itself and the character. It knows you think he’s awesome. Perhaps that would work if I did, but I think Gekko is creaky and lame and a kitschy symbol of another time, New Coke in human form.
So, in case it isn’t completely coming through, I hate these stupid characters and their stupid opinions and their stupid stupid faces. I hate the way Stone acts like he’s the first person to comment on the financial crisis and I hate the half-assed stab the movie takes at trying to explain it or the way the fall of 2008 went down. I hate these things but you might not, so I’ll try to take that into account here. What I suspect would annoy everyone, however, is the movie’s ridiculous camera work — showy scene transitions, whirling around-the-room shots, unnecessarily close close-ups, goofiness during the financial scenes that don’t actually illuminate anything. Pair this with the mopey Gekko-tries-to-win-his-daughter-back story and the general silliness of the dialogue and I think my extreme dislike of the way the movie presents itself is not entirely unfair.
So maybe you loved the original Wall Street — I still don’t think the characters or the tone ages well and you’ll view this, at best, with the same kind of nostalgia-based fondness that makes Star Wars fans say nice things about Revenge of the Sith. I found the movie almost unwatchably full of itself at points and draggy at other points. Let’s agree to disagree and call it a C-.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements. Directed by Oliver Stone and written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff (from characters by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is two hours and 16 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.