Fox // 2010 // 138 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // December 21st, 2010
"It's not about the money. It's about the game between people." -- Gordon Gekko
Wall Street was never a movie that screamed sequel. It was a film of its time, capturing that post-Reagonics era in which money was readily available to those hungry enough to fight for it. Its central character, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, Solitary Man), became an unexpected poster child for the '80s, inspiring many Gen-Xers to pursue a career "on the street." But again, nothing about the tale demanded a follow-up. That is until the financial collapse of 2008, and the massive government bailout of the US banking system.
Oliver Stone is a message filmmaker. He gets an ideology or a theory in his brain and gnaws on it like a labrador on a rawhide. What better way to tackle this complex and highly charged issue than through the eyes of a character who was removed from the playing field before the game imploded. So here we have Gordon, more than 20 years later, a disenfranchised observer commenting on today's financial world as a fledgling author, while still looking for a way to regain his seat at the table.
By chance, along comes Jake Moore (Shia LeBouf, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), a next generation Wall Street whiz kid who happens to be engaged to Gordon's politically charged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan, An Education). Jake's company and his mentor (Frank Langella, Good Night, and Good Luck) have just been taken down by rival financier Bretton James (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men), who also happened to be the lynchpin in Gordon's criminal conviction. With a common enemy, Jake and Gordon begin a courtship of their own, each looking for something the other has an inside track on. Jake can get Gordon in the same room with his daughter to begin healing a broken family. Gordon can guide Jake through treacherous waters to succeed as a noble investor championing an alternative power company, while at the same time taking down Bretton James, the new ruling serpent of Wall Street. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as it seems, and a series of twists and turns leaves us with the question...can anyone ever be truly redeemed?
If you've ever watched a painter like Bob Ross work, you'll appreciate the style of Oliver Stone. He's a thoughtful, intelligent, and passionate filmmaker whose narratives reveal themselves slowly and deliberately before our eyes. Every brush stroke has meaning, and often times the layers reveal more than one. However, it's not a style that works for everyone, especially here. Stone takes his time, often lingering a bit too long in areas that may not demand it, but that's how he tells his stories. He's an artist and its difficult to know when to stop (as perspective, there were nine previous cuts of the film before he settled on this one). The other potential drawback is that the subject matter and financial language of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps often flies over the heads of a less knowledgeable audience, though thankfully it never truly detracts from the journey these characters are on. This is a classic character study worthy of your time and attention, and the less you know about the storyline going in, the more likely you are to appreciate its outcome.
Then again, it's hard to screw up a film when you have a cast like this one. Michael Douglas continues to dominate the screen with effortless ease. Gordon convinces us he's a broken man seeking redemption, but there's more to it than that and Douglas plays the levels beautifully. Carey Mulligan, whom I've adored since her role as Sally Sparrow in Series Three of Doctor Who ("Blink"), brings a quiet intensity to a young woman trying to build a healthy adult life atop the foundation of a shattered youth. Frank Langella is a treasure who loses himself in nearly every role, and does so again here. The elder statesman Eli Wallach gets face time but very little to do as Langella's investment house rival. It's not nearly as compelling as the moment he had in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, but his presence adds weight to the picture nonetheless. Even Susan Sarandon gets the chance to shine briefly as Jake's mom, a Long Island middleclass business woman struggling to get by.
Which brings us to the film's two principal actors, Shia LeBouf and Josh Brolin. Both men are cut from the same cynically emotional cloth. Where Shia uses sarcasm as his shield, while Brolin arms himself with cocky machismo. Neither will be remembered as great "actors," in that they ultimately play themselves in every role. But they do have that unique movie star quality, holding our attention throughout long exchanges of dialogue and intense facial reactions, only to be made better by the people who surround them. I could have done without Shia's voiceover narration that open and close the film, but the exposition does serve a purpose.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD transfer for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is surprisingly vibrant. Shot on a saturated Fujicolor filmstock, lit and framed by Stone's frequent collaborator Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Babel), the visuals are a character unto themselves. Shot on location, with a tight budget and even tighter schedule, New York comes alive from the floor of the exchanges and executive offices, to the board rooms of the Federal Reserve and the city's cultural meccas. Granted, I'm viewing a studio screener of the film, but if it looks this good here I can only imagine how much more impressive the final product DVD and 1080p Blu-ray will appear. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is sufficient for this dialogue heavy picture, but where it really gets its play is in the unorthodox soundtrack by David Byrne and Brian Eno. It's an interesting choice, layering on the sound of two men so identified with the '80s music scene who have gone on to create even more impressive works in the decades since.
There are only two bonus features on this single disc DVD releases, but each valuable in their own right. First is a feature-length commentary by Oliver Stone, who lectures as much on the economy as he does the filmmaking process. For those laboring under the false assumption that Stone is a pompous blowhard who loves to hear himself talk, you're in for quite a surprise. This commentary track is another complete cinematic experience unto itself and makes you appreciate the film on an entirely different level. I wish more directors would take the time to record tracks like this. The second feature is an EPK retrospective on the character of Gordon Gekko and how his story has evolved from 1987 to today, featuring interviews with cast and crew.
You don't need to have seen Wall Street to appreciate Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. There are several callbacks to the original, both in story and character, but the story here is what's most important; a cautionary tale explaining that we are far from escaping this financial mess we've made for ourselves, through the lives of characters we can readily identify with.
Full disclosure: Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review