Greed may be good, but excess kills films. And Oliver Stone is about as excessive as filmmakers come. He’s a passionate writer/director who lets nothing stand in the way of his point-making: censors, subtlety, facts, nothing. I must admit, I’m not the biggest fan of his back catalogue, but at least I admire his passion. In recent years Stone has softened, taking an unusually even-handed approach with hot topics (World Trade Center, W.), and delivering run-of-the-mill pictures that lack his trademark ferocity. He’s now returning to the well with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a sequel to his iconic 1987 feature. It’s a return to form of sorts, in which he seems to recaptures his “magic”. Of course, this means his best and worst habits are back. But hey, at least it feels like an Oliver Stone film.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a flashy, timely, and mostly engaging drama, but it’s really nothing without Michael Douglas, who drags Gordon Gekko out of the “Eighties Villains Hall of Fame” for a victory lap. The film may open on a shot of his withered hands, but Gekko’s physical appearance is all that has diminished over the past twenty years. Douglas reignites the character with equal amounts of charm and wickedness; he’s as wily and whip-smart as ever. That’s a plus and a minus. No one else in the cast can quite keep up with him.
The film has far too many plot strands to mention in this mere review (actually, it has far too many plot strands full stop), so I’ll limit my synopsis to an update on Gekko’s situation. After serving a sentence for insider trading and securities fraud, the former king of Wall Street is released from prison into a new millennium. He discovers that greed is no longer restricted to the rich; everyone and their dog is now borrowing well beyond their worth. He tries to warn America of an impending financial collapse, but no one can hear him over the sound of their new speedboats and home entertainment systems. Young investor Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) does care about what Gekko has to say, but that might have to do with the fact he’s dating his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Moore promises to reunite Gekko with his girl, in exchange for some advice on the trading game. Moore thinks he’s getting the good end of the deal. Sigh. The only person to ever do well in a deal with Gekko is Gekko. Didn’t he even see the first film?
The first Wall Street was a typical Stone message movie – a warning against America’s descent into capitalistic madness. Despite the film’s problems (including the devastatingly bad leading performances from stars Charlie Sheen and Daryl Hannah), it had a point, and it made it well (well, well enough). The irony is that the global financial crisis could perhaps be blamed on all those young investors who didn’t realise Gordon Gekko was meant to be a villain, and modelled their careers on his teachings. Perhaps Money Never Sleeps is Stone’s attempt to atone for unleashing Gordon Gekko into the world? Frankly, he should be more concerned with the sin of making Charlie Sheen a star.
Needless to say, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan are more engaging leads than Sheen and Hannah. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to their characters. There is nothing on the page for any character other than Gekko, so it’s a testament to the fine supporting cast (including Frank Langella and Eli Wallach) that they make this thing watchable. Josh Brolin fares worst, only because he’s playing a villain in the shadow of Gordon Gekko. He is Kelly Rowland to Douglas’ Beyonce.
Wall Street 2 plays like a clarion call; a last-ditch warning several years too late. The film can proudly claim to be a fictionalised chronicle of America’s downfall, but little more I’m afraid. It’s a wonderful showcase for Douglas, who jolts enough electricity into the film to keep it from stagnating. But the picture is also overlong, and too often slips into repetitive pandering. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps welcomes two flawed icons back into the fold: Gordon Gekko and Oliver Stone. We may be glad to have them back in action, but it would be unwise to think they’ve learnt from their past mistakes.
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps arrives in Australian cinemas September 22, 2010.