WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. Starring Carey Mulligan, Shia LaBeouf, Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Susan Sarandon. Dircted by Oliver Stone. Rated M (Infrequent coarse language). 133 minutes.
A welcome sequel.
23 years earlier, Michael Douglas’ Oscar-winning role as insider trader, Gordon Gecko, with his now immortalised motto, Greed is good, became on of the screen’s most famous icons. However, as the 1980s were drawing to a close, Stone’s film was in some ways prophetic and was released at the time of the Wall Street collapse of October 1987. It was strong stuff and a timely critique. This time, Stone does not have to be prophetic. The world shared in the financial collapse of 2008 and the American government had to bail out the banks, and banks were being bailed out – much to the public’s dismay and their being scandalised by the extravagant bonus culture that rewarded bosses who failed (let alone acted illegally).
This film, with its behind the scenes look at American banking, the go-getting personalities and their ruthlessness adapted for consumption by a wide cinema-going public is certainly not going to endear the bankers to anyone. And since the film was in production, Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and even Goldman Sachs is being investigated. Greed wasn’t good, but, as the newly released from jail and promoting his new book, a newly smoothly ageing Gordon Gecko reminds us, everybody indulged in that greed where they could. In the final credits, on an American banknote is the wry joking motto, ‘In greed we trust’.
So, Oliver Stone and his writers are socking it to them and to us – but, because the times are bad, there are many notes of warm humanity and more humble values which may strike some viewers as a bit sentimental for this kind of film.
Michael Douglas (looking ever more like his father as he ages) relishes the chance to be Gordon Gecko again, and the screenplay does not fail him. His Fordham lecture is well worth listening to, as is his advice (both straightforward and devious) to his intended son-in-law, Jake (Shia LaBoeuf, who has moved from juvenile star (Holes) to teenage drama (Disturbia) to action hero (The Transformers) to good adult fare. But, despite the charm and the alleged repentance, can a Gecko change whatever it is that is natural to it? Yes, then no, then maybe!
Frank Langella gives credibility to the first part of the film, a banker of the old school who is dismayed by the upstarts and the machine controlled global finances. He is Jake’s mentor. Then, enter the principal villain for this sequel, a younger, unscrupulous speculator, Bretton James (Josh Brolin who was Oliver Stone’s George W). He is under the wing of a veteran who remembers the crash of 1929, a welcome role for 93 year old Eli Wallach. Things financial go from bad to worse as the Federal Reserve is brought in and even the Bush administration had to bail out the banks which seemed to justify that antichrist of American opinion, ‘socialism’ – which some did accuse George W Bush of in fact.
There is also a human story in Wall Street 2. Carey Mulligan (An Education) plays Gecko’s alienated daughter, Winnie, engaged to Jake who tries to reconcile her with her father. She is a director of a non-profit website, Frozen Truth, (Bretton James says he doesn’t understand ‘non-profit’) which reminds us of how influential sites are and how they can be a power for good (investigative expose articles) or source for unfounded rumours which become a reality that demand to be investigated and argued against.
There are some interesting sub-plots involving Susan Sarandon as Jake’s real estate agent mother, a glimpse of Sylvia Miles as another agent and Austin Pendleton as a physicist working on green-friendly research.
Make allowances for the human and nicer aspects of the film and enjoy the Wall Street side of it. It will make you rather self-satisfiedly indignant at those unscrupulous speculators – but the question remains what can be done, what is being done – and where are we headed?
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
20th Century Fox.
Released September 23 2010.