When a movie sequel comes about some twenty-three years after the original the first thing that comes to mind is the word desperation. Desperation by a studio, a director, an actor or all of the above wanting a hit badly. That is why I had great trepidation for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s sequel to his box office hit from 1987 which garnered star Michael Douglas an Academy Award for his performance. Why would Stone want to re-visit this character after all these years? Thankfully Stone is acutely aware, as a filmmaker, that the times indeed have changed and today’s financial world is still trying to recover from some bad times over the past few years. Stone wisely incorporates the dark financial straits into this new movie and it makes his new film into a fascinating and sometimes riveting thriller.
First and foremost Gordon Gekko is back. His older, grayer and wiser and, in the opening scene, he is being released from prison after serving eight years for insider trading (as recorded at the conclusion of the original by Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox) and various other crimes. In this day and age with company CEO’s being arrested for bilking millions of dollars I am sure everyone can use their imagination as to what else Gekko was up to. In the film’s opening scene Gekko collects his belongings (including one very large and outdated mobile phone) and walks out of prison. Perhaps stepping back into another era he mistakes an approaching limousine for his own personal ride. Yep, Gekko is back on the streets but the streets have changed and he is no longer the big man.
The film then shifts to the story of a new, young and hungry trader named Jake Moore (Shia LeBouf) who just happens (only in movies do we see this) to be living with Gekko’s daughter Winnie (nicely played by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan). She hasn’t spoken to her father in several years and blames him for the death of her brother. As much as she seems to hate her father and all he stood for you would think a stock trader would be the last person she would want to live with but we accept the conceit.
You can see from the get go that Jake is not like most of the traders Stone parades around in his films. He reminds you of Sheen’s Bud Fox from the original and you wait with baited breath to see corruption overtake him. Jake works for a company run by Louis Zabel (Frank Langella, in a terrific but all too brief role), his mentor and hero. Zabel’s company is being bought out by the money hungry and vengeful Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Langella works and pleads and ultimately begs for help to save his company.
Jake will eventually meet Gekko at a speech where he basically is trying to sell copies of his new book, Is Greed Good? Jake lets Gekko know who he is and soon they are making deals with each other all in an effort to reconcile father and daughter. It’s these scenes where Douglas shines as the “new” Gekko who is suffering from his mis-deeds and from things he couldn’t control that has ultimately made him fail as a father.
Meanwhile Jake goes to work for Bretton James, the very man who knocked his mentor out of the game with plans to try and do him in. He uses Gekko to get information on James all in the name of reconciliation but sooner or later you just know Stone is going to spring on us that moment when Jake realizes he has gotten in way too far over his head. It is these moments when Stone is at his best. We see Jake’s wheels spinning but his age and naivety don’t see that everyone else’s wheels are spinning as well.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a good film but not a perfect one. Stone incorporates a few more subplots than is necessary. Susan Sarandon plays Jake’s mother, a real estate woman who is constantly borrowing money from her son to cover her growing debts due to a market that is dying fast. Sarandon is passable in the role but the story takes us nowhere and should have been eliminated. Also, Stone still includes a bit too much lingo for the layman like me and I was a tad confused at times. One of the film’s twists is not a twist at all if you really think about it and Stone tidies up his several stories a little too neatly in the final ten minutes.
Michael Douglas, one of our most consistent but underrated lead actors breezes through the role of Gordon Gekko. He knows Gordon’s shows and they still fit comfortably. The surprise for me was Shia LeBouf, who graduates to a grown up role and handles it well. He is actually the lead role here, having more screen time than Douglas but he does a good job and it’s nice to see him again doing some real acting and not dodging special effects.
Oliver Stone has made a scary film but one that doesn’t frighten you at the time but later on when you think about it. It’s scary to think what can happen to people when things fail and scarier to see what happens to others who take advantage of those losing everything. It’s not a morality tale but Oliver Stone delivers his message to us loud and clear.