Judge Clark Douglas slicks his hair back on days when he's feeling particularly evil.
Our reviews of Wall Street: 20th Anniversary Edition (published October 1st, 2007), Wall Street (Blu-Ray) (published February 2nd, 2008), and Wall Street: Insider Trading Edition (published September 16th, 2010) are also available.
Every dream has a price.
"What's worth doing is worth doing for money."
Facts of the Case
The year is 1985, and Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen, Platoon) is an up-and-coming junior stockbroker. Bud is on a reasonably successful career path, but he yearns for more. For the past two months, he has been calling the office of Wall Street power player Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas, The War of the Roses) on a daily basis. At long last, his persistence pays off: Bud gets a brief interview with Gecko, and uses some insider information to land a job. Soon, Bud finds himself fully immersed in Gecko's world of fame, fortune and beautiful women. Ah, but such pleasantries come at a high cost. How many moral lines will be Bud cross before he determines that enough is enough?
The case has been made that Wall Street is a film that has aged rather poorly and has been considerably over-praised. I can see where such arguments are coming from. Strip away the lingering relevance of Oliver Stone's attack on the frenzied world of the New York Stock Exchange and the dynamic nature of Michael Douglas' performance in Wall Street, and what you're left with is a rather predictable, conventional morality play about a foolish protagonist's rise, fall and Important Life Lesson. However, those aforementioned virtues can't be easily dismissed, and the film retains a good deal of vitality even if it occasionally dips into scenes of overwrought melodrama and overstated sermonizing (and of course it does, because this is an Oliver Stone film).
Bud Fox may be Wall Street's protagonist, but Michael Douglas' performance ensures that everyone will believe that it's a film about Gordon Gecko. Douglas has significantly less screen time than Charlie Sheen, but he absolutely aces every scene he appears in. It's a role that makes the most of the actor's oily charm, and Douglas amps up the seductive nature of the character by refusing to mask his villainy. It's clear that Gecko is a thoroughly heartless and self-serving guy; he has no qualms about cheating on business deals, indulging in a bit of insider trading or crushing American jobs if it means he'll make a bit of extra profit. And yet he is also a Randian Superman of sorts; a living demonstration of just how much success one can achieve if they are capable of both exceptional intelligence and exceptional selfishness. His philosophy plays directly into the oh-so-American notion that the wealthy should have the freedom to exploit the poor, because our success is defined by our own desire and we'll all be wealthy someday if we want it badly enough. The famous "Greed is good" speech is a Bond villain's monologue wrapped in the lingo of a white collar inspirational sermon, and Douglas delivers it with all the conviction of a man who has contentedly traded his soul for a few extra bucks.
While the film's portrait of a stockbroker's life looks relatively sedate in contrast to the frenzied chaos one witnesses on CNBC every day in the modern era, it's nonetheless a consistently engaging look at how the system worked during the mid-1980s. Stone litters the supporting cast with talented actors, giving folks like Terrence Stamp (Superman II), Hal Holbrook (All the President's Men), John C. McGinley (Scrubs), James Spader (Stargate), Sean Young (Blade Runner) and Saul Rubinek (Unforgiven) a chance to shine in smaller roles. Making a particularly strong impression is Charlie's real-life father Martin Sheen (The West Wing), who plays Bud's skeptical blue-collar dad. Sheen plays "fundamental decency" about as well as any actor in Hollywood, and he brings that quality to a part that might have felt like more of a cliché in the hands of a lesser actor.
Now, onto the reason this review exists: Wall Street was indeed released on Blu-ray back in 2008, but is now being re-released as part of Fox's Signature Series. While the film has received a new 1080p/1.85:1 transfer, it's something of a "lipstick on a pig" situation. Whatever Wall Street's qualities may be, prettiness certainly isn't one of them. The imagery has been flat and bland from the very beginning, and this transfer does nothing to mask that fact. However, the level of detail is about as strong as it's ever likely to get, and the rather thick grain structure has been left intact. It's by no means a showcase disc, but it gets the job done. I couldn't tell much of a difference between the original DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio Track and this one (it's unclear whether or not this area was also given an overhaul), but it's similarly functional and unspectacular. Dialogue is clean and clear, the soundtrack selections have a bit of punch and sound design is well captured, but it's a pretty uninvolving mix overall.
In terms of supplements, most of what's offered has been ported over from the previous Blu-ray release: an audio commentary with Stone, two hour-long documentaries on the making of the film ("The Making of Wall Street" and "Greed is Good") and some deleted scenes. However, this release also adds…um, a "Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman" featurette (12 minutes) and a booklet containing some behind-the-scenes info, photos, bios and such. Not much to write home about, honestly.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Charlie Sheen isn't exactly the world's finest thespian, but he handles his role competently enough. Unfortunately, when we're focusing on his personal life rather than on Gecko or the details of the film's world, the film starts to sag a bit. The romance with Daryl Hannah (Splash) never really transforms into anything interesting despite the movie's clunky attempt to draw a parallel between her character and Gecko.
Wall Street is certainly an imperfect film, but it remains well worth seeing thanks to Douglas' performance and Stone's more insightful moments of social commentary. The Blu-ray release is a slight improvement over the original, but not enough of a leap forward to warrant an upgrade.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.