Judge Patrick Bromley is a bull in bear's clothing.
Our review of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, published December 21st, 2010, is also available.
"Someone reminded me once I said 'Greed is good.' Now it seems it's legal."—Gordon Gekko
For as calculated and unnecessary as it may seem, the time has never been better for a sequel to Oliver Stone's 1988 film Wall Street. With the housing market crash and the financial collapse of recent years, it would appear that things have come full circle and Americans are now paying for the kind of greed that Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko championed 20 years ago.
There's an interesting film to be made. I just don't think Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is that film.
Facts of the Case
It's been over 20 years since Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, Romancing the Stone) went to prison on charges of insider trading. Now, he's a free man and looking to get back in the financial game. Unfortunately, given America's current economic climate, it's the worst time to do so since the Great Depression. He begins to mentor a young, optimistic trader named Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf, The Battle of Shaker Heights) who happens to be dating Gekko's estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan, An Education). Jake, it turns out, is looking to take down a ruthless CEO (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men) he believes is responsible for destroying his previous mentor. Jake and Gekko begin a mutually beneficial relationship in which each is playing the other to get what he wants—though there may be more to Gekko's motives than anyone suspects.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the work of a filmmaker with a lot to say but no idea how to say it. Yes, the timing is right for a sequel to Wall Street, but Oliver Stone hasn't figured out what that sequel should be or even why it should exist. It's the most frustrating kind of bad movie: the kind of movie that raises compelling questions that it has no interest in answering. There's more promise in the movie's excellent teaser trailer (which is also the opening of the film) than is ever delivered upon in the finished film. It's not a good sign when I find myself recommending that people watch the trailer instead of the movie.
Oliver Stone has never been accused of being too subtle, but there are shots in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps—things like kids playing with bubbles that float away or dominos falling over—that would make even Mickey and Mallory Knox blush. I'm someone who has liked Stone's passionate, on-the-nose style in the past, but many of his choices in Money Never Sleeps cross the line from bombastic to stupid. Even, at times, insulting. It tries to spin so many plates that it ends up servicing nothing in a satisfying way. Stone wants to make mention of the housing crisis, so he casts Susan Sarandon as LeBeouf's struggling realtor mother. Nothing is said about the real estate market other than that it's in bad shape, as though simply referencing the issue is enough to create drama. Even the main relationship in the film between LeBeouf and Gordon Gekko's daughter doesn't really work. Too much time and attention is paid to a love story, when that's not what Wall Street is about. What made Bud Fox compelling in the original film was the question of whether or not he was going to sell his soul. The movie was about moral compromise in the face of tremendous financial gain. Money Never Sleeps, though, really isn't about anything (or is about too many things, depending on how you look at it), and neither is LeBeouf's character. We know from the outset that he's a decent, moral guy, and there's never any doubt as to whether or not he will be corrupted. Where is the drama in that?
The central problem with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps? It brings back Michael Douglas to reprise his role as the iconically slimy Gordon Gekko (for which Douglas won the Best Actor Oscar for the first time around) but has no idea what to do with him. Gekko is basically sidelined for most of the film, stuck giving advice to Jake from the shadows. When the film finally frees him up and lets him rip, it doesn't really make sense—there's some attempt to play the old "leopard can't change his spots" card, but that doesn't really jive with the rest of the movie, thematically speaking. The first film lived and died by Gekko—he was Wall Street. This film reduces him to a Greek chorus, supposedly slow-burning its way towards a big reveal about his motivations. That's all fine and good, I guess (though it has nothing to do with what Money Never Sleeps is trying to say in the larger sense), but it, too, is negated by a tacked-on happy ending. The movie doesn't even have the courage to be as cynical and acid black as times like these call for. And while Douglas is once again good in the role, he's much better and more interesting in this year's Solitary Man. I'd see that one instead.
At the very least, the Blu-ray edition of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is really solid and ought to please fans of the film, whoever they may be. The 2.35:1, full 1080p HD image is incredibly warm and pretty gorgeous, boasting tremendous fine detail (which, it turns out, is the enemy of Michael Douglas's aged, lizard-like face skin) and naturalistic colors throughout. It looks great. The lossless DTS-HD audio track isn't called on to do a whole lot, but is deceptively rich and layered. The dialogue gets front and center treatment, but listen closely for the smaller details in the surround channels and you'll be pleasantly surprised. The songs by David Byrne and Brian Eno are also skillfully woven into the soundtrack, even though they're totally out of place with the tone of the film.
Oliver Stone sits down for a fast-paced, chatty commentary on just about every aspect of the film's production; for as on-the-nose as the movie is, Stone has no troubles explaining his choices and spelling things out even further. The director is also one of the key participants (alongside LeBeouf, Mulligan and Brolin) in the interview featurette "A Conversation With Oliver Stone and the Cast of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Nearly a half-hour of deleted and extended scenes have been included, many of which are worth at least a look if you like what the movie has to offer. The scenes are playable with optional commentary by Stone as well.
Perhaps the best bonus feature is an hour-long collection of featurettes billed as "Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street," which focuses a lot on the original film and the real world of finance from which both Wall Street and its sequel draw their inspiration. Some brief character profiles and a pair of trailers for the film round out the bonus features. A digital copy has also been included so that you can watch Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps anytime, anywhere.
Like a lot of Oliver Stone movies, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a frustrating experience. Stone is talented and deliberately provocative enough as a filmmaker that you're entertained and engaged as it's unfolding, but as soon as it ends you realize that none of the pieces really add up to anything. File this one under Missed Opportunity.
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