Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBoeuf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, Charlie Sheen, Austin Pendleton.
“Greed is good!” was the mantra of charismatic corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, his blistering 1987 examination of corporate greed and the worst excesses of capitalism. In this belated and largely unnecessary sequel, Stone and Douglas bring Gekko back, although they both seem to have lost that fire in their bellies. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a vaguely disappointing morality play about the consequences of greed and ambition.
Since we last saw him 23 years ago, Gekko has been imprisoned for insider trading and subsequently released. He has written a best selling book, called Is Greed Good?, and is keen to rehabilitate his reputation and make his mark in the world of finance. “Not only is greed good, but now it seems it’s also legal,” Gekko remarks while addressing a business seminar. However, to its detriment, Gekko is not the central focus of this film. While his presence casts a giant shadow, we want to see more of this flamboyant character.
The film’s main character is Jake Moore (Shia La Boeuf, from the Transformers series, etc), a cocky and ambitious commodities trader who idolises Gekko and his ethos. He is also in a relationship with Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, from An Education, etc), a blogger who maintains a web site decrying corporate greed and espousing environmentally friendly messages. Moore is interested in developing alternative energy technology, as he believes that is the next bubble for investors.
But Moore is also keen to seek revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin), the rapacious corporate raider whose hedge fund was responsible for bankrupting the investment firm he works for and driving his boss and beloved mentor (Frank Langella) to suicide. As it happens, Moore’s plans intersect with Gekko’s, and they team up to bring down Bretton. But just how far can Moore trust the wily and manipulative financier?
Douglas justly won an Oscar for his iconic performance in the original, and while he is good here, his performance lacks the same intensity and oily quality. Nonetheless he still manages to dominate every scene he is in. Douglas also looks eerily like his famous father here. La Boeuf normally has a lightweight screen presence, but here he finally gets a chance to flex his acting muscles against some heavy weight performers, and he is very good as the idealistic and earnest young broker. Mulligan is also good as Winnie, who is ambivalent about her father’s attempts to ingratiate himself back into her life.
There is a solid supporting cast that includes Langella, who is effective in a small role; Susan Sarandon, who plays Moore’s mother, a struggling real estate agent; and 94-year old veteran Eli Wallach, who makes an impression with his one scene of note. There is also a brief but unnecessary cameo from Charlie Sheen, whose role serves to remind us of Gekko’s undoing in the first film.
In previous films Stone has been a fierce critic of elements of US society, in particular its politics, power struggles and big business. There is a cynicism to Stone’s view of the world of high finance, which is timely, given the recent global financial meltdown, sub-prime loans, corporate downsizing and massive government bail outs that have left many disillusioned. However, here his anger at the irresponsible and amoral brokers and financiers who created the crisis is strangely muted.
Co-written by Allan Loeb and Steven Schiff, the smart script is occasionally burdened with a lot of financial jargon and technical talk that will go over the head of most viewers. However, Stone’s forceful direction of boardroom scenes and trading rooms are charged with insight and a palpable sense of anger that make for compelling viewing. There are also a number of typically over the top directorial flourishes, such as split screens, stock prices scrolling across the screen in hypnotic fashion, and subliminal images of falling dominoes.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a slick looking production, enhanced by Roberto Prieto’s cinematography, which captures the glittering Manhattan skyline and makes it a minor character in the drama.