Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


Directed by Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone’s follow up the one of the most influential films of the eighties, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is unfortunately a rather unworthy follow up to Stone's groundbreaking essay on greed and the rot of capitalism gone crazy.

After eight long years in prison, disgraced financier Gordon Gekko returns to New York City in an attempt to reunite with his estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan). Unfortunately for Gekko, his daughter has decided to marry the risible Shia Lebeouf who plays Jake (yeah, I know it's just acting, but Mulligan actually started dating Lebeouf during shooting! Bad choice, Carey!) , an ambitious prop trader working for one of Wall Street’s biggest investment banks. Jake’s firm quickly goes south, however, when a rival financier named Bretton James (Josh Brolin) aggressively shorts its stock leading to the collapse of the firm and the suicide of its managing director who was also Jake's mentor. Jake seeks revenge with the help of Gekko, a onetime rival of James, much to the dismay of his fiancé.

Despite Michael Douglas’s return as Gordon Gekko and a premise that seems ripe for some richly deserved skewering of the financial sector, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a pretty big disappointment. My feelings were pretty much summed up by a guy who accosted me immediately after the end of the film and exclaimed “What a waste of eight bucks!” Indeed.

Probably the biggest disappointment for fans of the original Wall Street is the minor role Douglas plays in « Money Never Sleeps » as Gordon Gekko. Douglas ’ Gekko is one of the most well known villains of American cinema, a brash, arrogant, morally bankrupt power broker responsible for such awesome quotes as “Lunch is for wimps!” Douglas is back as Gekko in “Money Never Sleeps” but he’s given far too little screen time to light it up like he did in the first instalment and that’s a major bummer, especially since most of his screen time is stolen by the rather blah Shia Leboeuf. It’s a puzzling decision on the part of the screenwriters, especially since Douglas appears to be in vintage form in the few scenes he’s given.

“Money Never Sleeps” also misses the mark in its portrayal of post housing market collapse America and the decrepit financial services industry that brought the system to its knees. The late 2000’s recession is certainly fertile ground for a “Wall Street” sequel since its causes--avarice, greed, and wild speculation--are eerily reminiscent of the anything goes 80’s that the original “Wall Street” was based on. Nevertheless, whereas “Wall Street” came to define an economic chapter in American history, “Money Never Sleeps” doesn’t feel nearly as important. Sure, there’s some decent barbs taken at the architects of the financial collapse but there’s nothing as compelling as Gordon Gekko proclaiming that “Greed is good” before dismantling a decent company just to make a quick buck. Part of the problem is that that scathing social critique of “Wall Street” never comes close to being duplicated in “Money Never Sleeps”. Stone has certainly turned down his rhetoric somewhat over the past few years. Even “W” was pretty tame. Although I dislike a lot of Stone’s earlier work for being too overtly biased in its politics, a movie like “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” would have been well served by pulling no punches. The fact that it does is what ultimately sinks “Money Never Sleeps”, though not enough Gordon Gekko is an almost equally important factor.


Murf said...

So disappointed! I loved the first movie and thought Michael Douglas was fantastic, too bad they botched the sequel.

JDM said...

Yeah, they really did. I thought they could have stuck to the formula of just having Michael Douglas do his thing and they probably would have made a pretty decent film.