Judge Dennis Prince says this Blu dog has fleas.
Our reviews of Wall Street: 20th Anniversary Edition (published October 1st, 2007), Wall Street (Blu-ray) Signature Series (published November 19th, 2012), and Wall Street: Insider Trading Edition (published September 16th, 2010) are also available.
"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that: Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right; greed works."
This seems to be the mantra coming out of Fox Home Entertainment since we see the studio is back to make another cash grab with this new Blu-ray release of Wall Street, a film given a 20th Anniversary release on DVD only four short months prior. But, the laying on of high-definition dazzle is surely enough to buffet the value of this feature you may have already purchased, isn't it?
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen, Major League) is a lowly Wall Street brokerage account manager who can only seem to attract—and alternately attempt to fend off—the worst clientele in the trading business. Certain his capabilities are being wasted in the pen of his peers, he aspires to service a big client, someone like Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction) perhaps. Gecko is a corporate raider of enviable stature, the sort that can squeeze millions out of a failing concern and can upend yesterday's most stalwart institutions with a mere raise of an eyebrow. Through dogged perseverance, Bud gets five minutes of Gecko's time but doesn't have much in his pitch to make an impact. In desperation, Bud blurts out an insider tip about Bluestar Airline, divulging confidential information shared privately by maintenance chief, Carl (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone). Since he serves as the union leader, Carl wouldn't normally reveal sensitive details of the airline's shaky standing except for the fact that Bud is his son. No matter because Gecko plays the tip and, when it pays off, enlists the eager Bud to get him some fresh information about other businesses, ripe and ready for raiding just as soon as some reliable insider information can be attained. And, suddenly, Bud is caught up in the tangled web of illegal and unethical trading practices, the sort that Gecko applauds and excels at. But all of the big money and high-value perks that Bud secures for himself lose their luster when he discovers Gecko is intent on dissolving Bluestar the moment after he has conned the chief stakeholders into allowing him to gain a majority ownership. Never mind that his father and longtime friends will be put out on the street without warning; this is the greedy business of personal gain.
At its core, Wall Street is about the rites of passage of the young Bud Fox. He's eager, energetic, and a bit overconfident for his own good. With his aspirations aimed high, Bud presents himself as a young guy who wants to win—and win big—no matter the cost. This, of course, is exactly the game Gordon Gecko likes to play, preying on the enthusiastic yet inexperienced motivation of a newcomer. At this point, Oliver Stone's film presents us with a palpable conundrum: do we hiss at Gecko for exploiting Bud's eagerness, or do we acknowledge that the heartless raider is truly mentoring his young protege in the ways of big money market manipulation? Of course, Carl, Bud's father, is there to serve as the cornerstone of ethical upbringing and conscientious conduct, a man who made a career through hard work and self-sacrifice. He's noble, no doubt, but his methods haven't delivered the kind of bankable results for which Bud yearns. Somewhere in the middle is a long-time employee of the brokerage, Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook, Men of Honor), who watches Bud with a cautious eye and reminds the young upstart that success often has a price that few can endure. This is Bud's world, one that swirls with indulgent incitement, conservative caution, and seasoned wisdom. In the end, it will be Bud who discovers how much he's willing to pay for conspicuous success.
Some will call Oliver Stone's follow-up to his award winning Platoon as an expose about the unbridled greed that propelled the indulgent 1980s under the watch of President Ronald Regan. While many Americans were vainly waiting for a trickle-down relief, Stone's picture attempts to pull the curtain back on the less patient among us, they who eat blue collar Americans for breakfast. But, the film isn't so much of a jaw-dropping revelation of the evil deeds and those who do them while sporting perfectly appointed linen slacks, pressed dress shirts, and assertive suspenders as it is a sort of peek into the monkey cage of Wall Street trading. Though it might be that two decades have passed since the film's original release, the film comes off like a sort of sideshow of success-mongering miscreants than a solidly compelling tale of high-stakes business. Even those who play on the side of lawfulness appear as mere pawns in their stress-heavy setting, causing us to look upon their daily grind as far too costly to bear for any prolonged period of time.
That "grind," however, is obviously what turns some folks on and a heavily detailed and accurate film such as this should likely raise viewers' heart rates markedly as fortunes are gained and lost in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, though Stone had immersed himself in the trading world a full year before filming began, the result is a rather lackluster affair. Yes, Michael Douglas is absolutely slimy as the sneering Gordon Gecko and his performance carries the picture. No doubt, young Charlie Sheen's portrayal as the over-zealous Bud is easy to recall when our own aspirations cloud our better judgment. And, of course, Martin Sheen is absolutely fatherly as Carl and makes us remember the tales of toil our fathers shared, reminding us that there is no such thing as a "free lunch." That's all fine and these pieces work well within the narrative yet the action of the film is rather drab despite the use of hand held cameras intended to impart the frenetic action within the Wall Street world. Frankly, the film is so heavy with subtleties—terminology, techniques, and trade talk—that those unfamiliar with this line of work will likely miss much of what is going on. To this end, Stone has constructed a film aimed squarely at a target audience but has alienated a larger viewership. This isn't to say a layman can't follow the events intelligently; it's just that it lacks resounding impact on those who don't bury themselves in the world day in and day out.
But the point of this hearing isn't to determine whether Wall Street is to be tried on the merits of its narrative. Rather, this examination is about the purported value of finding the film now on the Blu-ray format. Certainly, high definition treatments are worthwhile to peruse because of the marked improvement in visual and aural presentation—usually. As befuddling as it may sound, this new mastering of Wall Street looks suspiciously like the 2007 DVD release previously mentioned. Although it's understandable that a source that is two decades old might not dazzle the eye the same as a current production would, this one looks no better than an indifferently upscaled viewing of a standard definition disc. Despite the fact that the image is presented via a 1080p / AVC MPEG-4 encode, the result is wholly unimpressive. The contrast is flat, grain runs relatively high, and color is muted throughout. Detail levels seem to wallow in 1987 capabilities, the sort that remind us of the dark days of videotape. The audio track is similarly under-performing, the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio promising a high-yield experience but only able to muster up a front-anchored presentation that's flat and makes scant little use of rear surround resources. In a final bid for increasing its market value, this Blu-ray disc again misses projections by delivering the same content found on last year's DVD—the commentary, Stone's introduction, the featurettes, and the deleted scenes. While there's no question this extra content is good, it doesn't improve the value of this disc, especially since these are non-HD features. And, if you're looking for HD exclusive content, well, let's just say you'd be best served by analyzing a different prospectus.
When the final bell rings and the trading papers settle on the empty trading floor, Wall Street will be recognized for its accuracy and intelligent approach to its subject matter. Conversely, this Blu-ray disc will also be revealed as an opportunistic parlaying of near-identical content previously marketed and of perceived value only until the masses understand its substandard performance.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio commentary by Oliver Stone
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