WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Michael Douglas, Shia
LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: December 22, 2010
“It's not about the money...it's about the GAME.”
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps teeters on the edge of a somewhat reluctant recommendation. It boasts one of the year's greatest cinematic pleasures in seeing Michael Douglas recreate his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko. But it also serves as a painful reminder of just how far Oliver Stone has fallen.
In its day, Wall Street was an intelligent if not completely objective exploration of the insanity of the stock market and how many made millions by...well, buying and selling, really. Not producing goods, not offering services, just making right trades at the right time.
It was a time where men like Gordon Gekko ruled the roost. The vast majority of rich stock brokers didn't get that way by illegal deals, but a few certainly did, and in Gekko, Stone created the quintessential portrait of a ruthless player who slashed and burned his way through the game, until the walls closed in on him and his world came crashing down.
Stone mentions in the extras that he believed he created the ultimate villain in Gekko, so he was a little taken aback at the way so many Americans embraced him. They didn't love Gekko for his illegal activity, but for his power, his lack of mercy, and his shrewdness. For a man like Stone, Gekko is evil personified, but for many of us, he was almost an icon of capitalistic success. You know...apart from all the lawbreaking stuff. I can even remember upon a time that my best friend could recite the entire “greed is good” speech verbatim.
So now, after one of the worst financial disasters in our nation's history, Stone dusted off the idea book and brought Gordon back. He'd been away for a long time, but he's finally out of prison and is enjoying a new success as an author and an analyst of the real insanity of the stock market.
His personal life, what remains of it, is in shambles. His son committed suicide years back, and his daughter Winnie (Mulligan), a leftist blogger, wants nothing to do with him. But her fiancee Jake Moore (LaBeouf) is an up and coming player himself, and figures he has a lot to learn from Gordon, if he can somehow reconcile the aging giant with his estranged daughter.
The financial world is one where just a rumor, even completely baseless, can cause ripples of disaster to erupt far and wide. I can't remember the name of the bank, but I remember when Senator Chris Dodd wanted to destroy one of his enemies, he simply suggested on the floor of the Senate that the solidly reputable bank was financially unsound. It was a lie, but as a Senator on the Senate floor, no one could touch him, and he brought that particular bank and the thousands of employees it had to near ruination with one well-placed and deliberately strategic piece of deceit.
Here, when an old enemy of Gordon named Bretton James (Brolin) wants a company cheap, he does the same thing, and the tragic results it brings upon Jake's mentor and friend Louis Zabel (Langella) reverberates through the entire story.
You might wonder why Gordon went away to prison for so many years when many who are convicted of insider trading serve a year or two at best...it turns out, the story runs deeper, and involves Bretton James, who spent a lifetime proving he can destroy anybody. Can Gordon, in his newfound alliance with his daughter's boyfriend, find a way to bring James down while rebuilding an empire he left in ruins as the 1980s came to a close?
My theory is that when the financial meltdown first happened and fingers were pointing at the then-current administration, Oliver Stone was rabid to resurrect Gordon Gekko as a means to get in on the blame game. But by the time the cameras started to roll, more and more people were aware of what REALLY caused the collapse...there were many at fault on all sides, but banks being forced to loan money by liberal politicians to people who had little chance of paying it back causing more and more housing demand and skyrocketing home prices built on a completely unsustainable government interference in free market was the asteroid impact that netted all other destructive shock waves.
Much like Michael Moore and his laughable Capitalism movie, the times changed too quickly, and people woke up and realized what was really to blame. And so, in many ways, this film feels like the product of a tired, unenthusiastic author who just barely had it in him to attempt to keep up the front.
It's been sad over the years to see Stone turn from a vibrant, relevant filmmaker to an insane old man whose political agenda poisoned every piece of work he's made for the last 15 years or so. I recently got a chance to catch W., and it was a work of such absurd, spiteful fantasy by a hate-ravaged mind that it was hard to see anything of the man who once gave us Born on the Fourth of July.
His lack of energy is apparent in the way many moments in the film just feel listless and unmoving. We spend too much time with uninteresting characters talking uninteresting things, and Stone's only way to ratchet it up is by constantly inserting bizarre and out-of-place CGI effects. Yes, in a Wall Street movie. And in the end, I guess the picture DOES say what Stone intended for it to say, but even HE knew he was going to be selling something nobody was buying any longer.
So why the three star review? Simple. Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. Douglas has always been an intriguing actor to me, but when he dons the suit of his most iconic character, it's absolutely as thrilling as seeing Harrison Ford with fedora and bullwhip. Every moment Gekko is on screen is electrifying. His speech at a book-signing event is filled with more financial insight than any ten cable network business program. The sheer pleasure of seeing this character back after so many years carries enough weight to make up for a malaise of other critical flaws.
I wish the film had taken a more honest look at the crisis and the ways politicians try to bend the market in ways it would never move until it breaks, and then use the carnage as an excuse to take over more and more of our economic freedoms. In the end, lives were ruined, nest eggs were shattered, businesses like the Chrysler dealership my family frequented for 25 years were ordered to close up, and our government played a real life Monopoly game, acquiring and controlling more and more of our free market while forcing all of us to foot the bill. That's the kind of unbridled villainous abuse of power that Gordon Gekko could only dream about.
This is a terrific high definition transfer from Fox. Much of the film takes place in indoor settings, but the images are always rich in detail and natural looking. Color schemes are well-rendered but not overly demanding, and delivers perfectly for a film of this nature.
The DTS HD soundtrack delivered well and above the call of duty. This is a movie driven by dialogue, which is always cleanly offered, but there are a handful of bigger scenes that really open up the front and back stages nicely and remind you of what your home theatre is capable of. The music score is a bit strange and unappealing, but when the Talking Heads' song “Home” makes a welcome return in the end credits, it's hard not to just sit back and listen and enjoy the way good music sounds when uncompressed.
There is a commentary from Oliver Stone, which always makes for strange listens...he's done a few where I was certain he was high, but here, he just seems a bit distracted. There is a conversation between Stone and cast, a Fox Movie Channel special with the stars, some deleted and extended scenes, and a documentary on the rise and fall of Wall Street which also brings the world of the first film together with the world of the new one.
I'm guessing you could bring Michael Douglas in as Gordon Gekko in the middle of any movie and have a movie that's at least somewhat worth watching. Seeing him back in his most famous role was more thrilling to me than all the 3D CGI IMAX wonders of the year combined. But while Douglas has lost nothing, the same can't be said for Oliver Stone, who comes across as a tired old snake oil salesman who can't quite muster up the phony smile to try and sell his worthless goods anymore.