By Scotty C.
Oliver Stone releases Gordon Gekko back into the world and on screens this weekend with “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, a sequel to the classic “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen. This time around Gekko is the only character from the first film involved in the story taking place in 2008 right before the economic meltdown. Trade the Sheens in for Shia Labeouf (Transformers), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) and Carrey Mulligan (An Education) and you have new characters to go with a new economic landscape.
“Someone reminded me I once said greed is good,” Gekko says, “Now it seems it’s legal.” The film begins as Gekko is released from prison in 2001 with nothing but a gold money clip and a huge cellular phone. Then seven years later in 2008 he has published a book “Is Greed Good?” and is warning about how he was small potatoes compared to the people running the financial sector these days. Gekko looks to be a rehabilitated man who has changed his ways, talking about people are living beyond their means, how greed has taken hold of society. The 21st Century Gekko is no longer looking for insider trades to sell his soul for.
Shia Labeouf plays Jake Moore, an up and coming financial master of the universe who is doing all he can to make sure an alternative energy company gets what it needs to succeed. Jake works for his mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langela) who after a long life in finance doesn’t understand the way things are run now with profits made off of losses. His company ends up being taken down by Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Mini spoiler, Zabel commits suicide after the disintegration of his life’s work. This is the beginning of what will be the economic meltdown of 2008.
This leaves Jake to propose to his daughter Winnie (Carrey Mulligan) who has had nothing to do with her father for many years. Jake is filled with revenge and wants to take down the man he feels responsible for Zabel’s death. This leads him to Gordon Gekko with something to dangle in front of him; a reconnection with his daughter. Gekko wants to rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter and take down Bretton James.
The story is ambitious and shoots for the moon as it attempts to illustrate the people behind the meltdown on Wall Street while serving a personal story of redemption for Gekko. The story succeeds more on the Wall Street aspect than the Gekko aspect. The scenes involving Winnie Gekko are nowhere near as fulfilling as are attempted. Mulligan is fresh from an incredible performance in “An Education” and is given very little to do here aside from a one note pout.
Douglas is great as Gekko and the film really moves and comes alive with him onscreen. Unfortunately Gekko is off screen for a good chunk of the film. This is Shia Labeouf’s film and he carries it well as he begins to take on more adult roles. Josh Brolin is great as a white collar Wall Street billionaire.
The Wall Street aspect of the story with Gekko, Jake and Bretton James works much better than the family story of Gekko and his daughter. For a film that sets itself before and during the financial meltdown of a generation, Stone doesn’t take full advantage. Finance and white collar crime are never going to be as visual and entertaining as other types of crime and Stone gets awfully close but it feels like he came up short illustrating how these people work and get away with crashing the economy and getting bailed out for it. This movie has a long drawn out set up. This movie probably has another hour that didn’t make it in the final cut. Hopefully it will be available as a Director’s Cut. The setup is an hour and a half and then the repercussions and pay off leave everything to have to be wrapped in 45 minutes leaving everything feeling rushed. There’s not a second to take in what is happening because there’s another crisis awaiting the next frame. Perhaps the quick finish and climax symbolizes how it took America 30 years to get to this meltdown and how easy it was for the culprits to get back on top and act like it never happened.
I loved this movie. I felt engaged during all of it except for the lulls with Gekko’s daughter. It captures the scene of an economic reality that most people are oblivious to. The only drawbacks to the film are that it isn’t an instant classic. For whatever reasons, this film does not reach its full potential that could make it one of the great ones. Nevertheless go see it.
For a sequel 20 years after the original, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is incredible. While the film doesn’t succeed at everything it attempts, it comes very close, leaving it better than most films. Simultaneously, it is great that Oliver Stone got to make this film with Michael Douglas before he got sick. This film works because of Michael Douglas and in these times of diminishing 401Ks and high unemployment, the world needs Oliver Stone, Michael Douglas and “Wall Street.”