Title: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Play time: 2h 13min
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan
Wrecking Lives for Short-Term Profit in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Gordon Gekko, the legendary corporate raider and opportunist who pronounced that “Greed is good” in Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic Wall Street, does not have a conscience. He is ruthless and amoral. He does not so much as flinch at the prospect of wrecking thousands of lives for short-term profit. His name is apt: he resembles a psychopathic lizard. He symbolizes the unchecked capitalist id.
Twenty-three years later, Gekko returns in a sequel, subtitled Money Never Sleeps. In an effort to turn the new film into a mainstream, ultra-topical thriller, screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff essentially ditch the axioms above, giving Gekko an estranged daughter with whom he yearns to reconnect, and teasing us with the possibility that a few years in prison may have turned him into a white knight. For a while, his motivations remain ambiguous, before a deeply, profoundly misguided ending crystallizes them into something maudlin and unpleasant.
Oliver Stone Spots the Opportunity & Grabs It
Oliver Stone clearly saw this sequel as an opportunity to wax didactic about the recent and current financial meltdown and the newest incarnation of Wall Street greed. For as long as he does so in the form of a slick, fast-moving trading-floor thriller, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is tolerable, and even fun. As in the first film, Gordon Gekko is not the focus; that would be Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a young banker working under the wing of old-school Wall Street mainstay Lou Zabel (Frank Langella). Langella makes a hell of an entrance, grimly working the phones in suspenders and a bow tie; I mistakenly thought the character would be a sad-sack wash-out a la Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010): Film Summary & Critique
Jake and Lou’s firm is about to implode under the weight of massive leverage, awful subprime mortgage bets, and the machinations of a new-breed rival, Bretton James (Josh Brolin). To save his company and his pet green energy investment, Jake makes the questionable decision of turning to Gordon Gekko (out of prison for seven years now) for help. Gekko, it’s worth noting, happens to be the father of Jake’s lovely fiancee (Carey Mulligan), a left-wing blogger who wants nothing to do with dad.
The first 80 minutes of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps are snappy and polished, twisting current events into a fairly crackerjack plot, and eliciting huge performances from Langella, Brolin, and – of course – Michael Douglas. Things go south in the third act, when the movie abruptly turns into a plodding series of moral lessons punctuated by rote and mechanical plot resolutions. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ends up both too sappy for a Wall Street film (the image of dead Frank Langella mournfully superimposed next to LaBeouf in the bathroom mirror was the last straw), and too on-the-nose for any remotely culturally aware moviegoer.
As for Gekko, the film paints itself into a corner by giving him a daughter and attempting to endow him with psychological depth. There are ultimately only two possibilities: either Gekko heartlessly throws his daughter under the bus (probably too bleak an outcome for the kind of movie Money Never Sleeps wants to be), or he sacrifices in the name of fatherly love (wrong, wrong, wrong). Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps toys with both choices, before giving us the least satisfying possible resolution. The only thing worse than a movie that resorts to painful cliches is one that resorts to painful cliches that are also wildly inappropriate.