This Review Contains No Spoilers
The character of Gordon Gekko is so iconic that it defined the entire decade of the 1980′s. The concepts of capitalism and greed being good are held within a movie that twenty years later, even with a captivating back story, remains jarringly corny and is littered with countless examples of unintentional humor. Regardless of the bizarre beach front dune buggy race, the fact that Gekko seems to own a living, working robot, and Daryl Hannah’s completely absurd interior decoration of Bud Fox’s massive new apartment, Oliver Stone’s 1987 thriller captures the essence of excess in deceit, gluttony, and perhaps most importantly retribution.
But by now, you know the updated story. Stone returns to direct the sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which features Michael Douglas reprising his role as the infamous Gekko, just being released from federal prison after serving an eight year sentence. The back story this time is the subprime mortgage crisis, and if you aren’t fully aware of what led our country into the recession we just emerged from, this movie is a literal education. Unfortunately, the film itself is passable at best. Stone has replaced Charlie Sheen with a wide eyed Shia LaBeouf, who plays Jacob Moore, a brilliant young investment banker that shares Gekko’s same thirst for power. Moore intends to marry Gekko’s daughter Winnie (played by “An Education’s” Carey Mulligan), who disowns and subsequently resents her father while he’s in prison. And when Gekko’s attempt to reconcile is thwarted and his return to prominence is halted, Gekko does what he does best: conspires to exploit any potential opening he can uncover. But the 2010 Gekko is different from the groundbreaking original version, and the supporting cast, while competent, did not get me behind the story itself or invested in any of the characters.
Reflective fans of the original will not be disappointed by the updated version’s historical references, and Josh Brolin’s performance as Bretton James is fantastic. With his recent roles in Milk, W., and especially American Gangster, Brolin has truly become one of the most important and underrated supporting actors of our time, and his work in this movie no less brilliant. Similarly, LeBeouf is also outstanding, if not for his youthful appearance which makes the story seem far less plausible. And Michael Douglas, while relatively less bitter and antagonistic, serves a refreshing and nostalgic return to his iconic portrayal. Mulligan’s work while sufficient, lends her to tears in virtually every scene and ultimately, her role seems the most replaceable as Gekko’s only daughter. Frank Langella and Susan Saradon also perform capably in supporting roles here.
While Brolin is perhaps the scene stealer, director Oliver Stone delivers some typical cringe-worthy symbolic cutaways throughout the movie. Similar to Scorcese’s rat at the close of “The Departed,” Stone’s images of falling dominoes and bursting bubbles seemed a little too campy for this viewer, as he tries to beat you over the head with the obvious imagery. Understandably, he sought to recreate some of the magic from the original with some lame cutaways and somewhat banal dialogue, but the film no longer takes place in the 1980s. Moreover, far too much time was spent focused on explaining what actually happened to the US economy in 2008 by mirroring bank failures to real life events and not enough time was spent enticing us to care about the new characters surrounding Gekko- the man that so many of us wanted to see. And without spoiling the ending, it seemed a bit disingenuous and actually fell flat for me.
Wall Street the original was full of intensity, aggressiveness, treachery, and the quest for more. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seemed like a more recent but more vanilla, toned down version of the original. Don’t get me wrong- if you loved the original, then you will likely enjoy this jog down memory lane. Maybe guys like Gordon Gekko really don’t exist on Wall Street anymore. But if I wanted a lesson in finance, I would have taken an economics class. Hand me that VHS tape- I’m opting for the original.
- Jane Van Arsdale