Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Someone reminded me I once said “Greed is good”. Now it seems it’s legal.

Oliver Stone’s previous film, W, was not the biting, damning portrait of former president George W Bush some thought it should have been and nor did it want to be. It turned out to be a sympathetic portrayal of a man struggling to break out of his father’s shadow; a man whose foibles came to define him as much as his decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

So when Stone picked the banking crisis as the subject of his second Wall Street film, the crisis that has caused so much consternation, you’d have thought it would mark a return to the biting, stinging rebukes he’s known for. What we get is a disappointing film that says little about anything.

Sequel to the film that coined the phrase ‘greed is good’, we pick up with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) as he leaves jail in 2001. Picking up his possessions (a money pick with no money, a mobile phone from the 80s), he’s a man out of time. A limousine drives past and Gekko motions for it only to realise it’s not for him but for your run of the mill hoodlum instead. It’s the one of the few insightful moments in a film that suffers from a muddled, sub-standard drama about finance and relationships.

Fast forward seven years and his relationship with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is strained. He meets Winnie’s current boyfriend Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) a Wall Street trader and strikes up an agreement – ‘help me make things right with my daughter and I’ll help you get revenge on Bretton James’ (Josh Brolin), who may be responsible for the death of Moore’s mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella).

Gekko may seem to be the principal character in all this but he’s not. That honour goes to Shia LaBeouf’s Moore with Gekko the side dish to LaBeouf’s main meal. It makes for a weaker film, substituting the Charlie Sheen/Douglas relationship with a less convincing version.

The film is not helped by being filled with dour emotional scenes that hit the ground with a thud. Mulligan and LaBeouf are serviceable; the older heads in Douglas and Brolin do a little better. Douglas leans on his easy, affable but roguish charm; a wolf searching for his prey and right moment to pounce. Josh Brolin’s Bretton James is a character that isn’t well developed, but easy to dislike through the way he imposes himself on others.

The theme of power is one the film keeps coming back to. Money equals power and power means control. It’s here where the film becomes muddled, striving to be a statement on the dangers of greed and ending up saying no more than what the first film said two decades ago.

Greed can be good but too much greed is bad. Perhaps that’s the point, with these two Wall Street films bookending an era where nothing has change. Ambition and greed go hand in hand and will ultimately lead to a downfall. Gekko is a warning to Moore, both professionally and personally. The interaction between Jake, Gekko and James is the most rewarding part of the second half, with Gekko and James acting as mentors to Jake, pushing and pulling in all manner of ways to serve their own needs.

What doesn’t help is Stone’s unsubtle direction. His use of visual metaphors are on the nose, in one instant kids are blowing bubbles before the financial bubble bursts or in another instant, banks are failing, which is connected to an image of dominos.

There’s some material that could have been edited out making the film tighter. Moore’s dealings with his mum (Susan Sarandon) who works in the housing market adds little that hasn’t already been explored. For fans of the original there is a nod when Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen in an uncredited cameo) returns to have some verbal jousting with Gekko, a highlight in a film that’s short on them.

Wall Street: Money never Sleeps disappoints. Light and insubstantial on the themes it wants to convey, it’s not the deep, satirical film many were expecting and says very little that hasn’t been said before.

It’s biggest failing is not having a reason to exist as like Gekko it tries to find its way but stumbles. It doesn’t work well as drama and lacks the outrage of Stone’s earlier works. It’s entertaining enough, but it’s a relic that should have been left untouched.

6/10

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Posted on 25/11/2010, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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