Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin.
Oliver Stone can’t make movies. This was something I really didn’t believe for a long time. Surely the maverick auteur has produced some worthy films? Well Stone fans will always point to Platoon, but Platoon is a bit overwrought and maudlin when compared to its better contemporaries. There’s also Salvador, but again Stone has made the film more a condescendingly superior comment than actual cinematic narrative (which can also be said of Stone’s other “classics”: JFK, Heaven & Earth and Born on the Forth of July). Lately the director has seen his enfant terrible status simmer down as he churns out increasingly middle-of-the-road fair such as World Trade Centre and W, both of which signifying missed opportunities rather than impressive filmmaking. But there’s always been one Oliver Stone film that has forged a cult-like respect: Wall Street. But despite the reverence many stockbrokers have for his 1987 opus, it is really just another example of Stone’s incapability. The film is garish, simplistic and clichéd, its only saving grace being an brashly reptilian turn by Michael Douglas as the malevolently greedy Gordon Gecko. Now, despite the original film’s lambasting of greed, Stone has returned to make another Wall Street, the cumbersomely titled: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a follow-up/remake that once again demonstrates that Oliver Stone can’t make movies.
The film picks up 23 years after the original, with Gecko being released from prison à la Blues Brothers. Collecting his possession he shuffles, unshaven and weary back to the real world where no one waits for him. The film then leaps forward several years and we are introduced to Jake Moore (LaBeouf), a young hotshot trader as he plans to propose to his girlfriend Winnie (a dour Carey Mulligan), who also happens to be Gecko’s estranged daughter. However when Jake’s loveably shambolic mentor (Frank Langella) commits suicide after being muscled out of his company by Josh Brolin’s Gecko 2.0, Jake seeks his future father-in-law’s assistance in seeking revenge in return for arranging a reconciliation with Winnie.
The real problem with the film is recognising whom we should be rooting for and whom we should be booing. The original Wall Street was pretty simple: Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox (who has a small cameo in Money Never Sleeps) was the naïve good guy who was seduced by Douglas’s Iago-in-suspenders. But in the new film, we are expected to sympathize with LaBeouf’s 20-something millionaire as he childishly pursues his own aggressive retribution agenda. Added to this is Douglas, who doesn’t appear nearly enough in the film and instead spends most of the movie in the background, occasionally emerging from the shadows to charmingly deliver some fiendish advice through a shit-eating grin or doing something we never really want to see Gordon Gecko doing (such as tearfully begging for his daughter’s forgiveness or riding the subway like a bum).
Therefore its rather appropriate that just as Douglas’s villain was the most fascinating part of the first Wall Street, Josh Brolin’s charismatic turn as the wicked Bretton James is the highlight of the second. Except I don’t quite know why he was meant to be so villainous. He seems to spend the film advising against major bailouts, offering jobs to people who screw him over and throwing fundraisers. He even gives Jake a shiny new motorcycle as part of a redundancy package. Thus the film emerges a mess: LaBeouf’s spoilt and obnoxious Jake and Douglas’s de-fanged Gecko are meant to somehow earn our sympathy while Josh Brolin swans about stealing every scene he’s in. I don’t think this was an intentional “everyone on Wall Street is good and bad” ruse- and even if it was it just comes across as muddled.
Furthermore the script seems to fluctuate between financial gobbledygook (all Cp’s, Lv’s and Lpcs) and overwhelmingly stupid lines (“money is a bitch that never sleeps!”). In another poor decision Stone decided to slather David Byrne songs all over the film. Now I love David Byrne, but the crude use of his music here is just peculiar and jarring. It’s really just another drop in the ocean in terms of Stone’s poor choices. The entire film seems desperate to present itself as slick and prescient, but fails woefully to deliver. Which is a pity in a way because there are some good things here. Although Mulligan and LaBeouf are dismal and unremarkable, Brolin and Langella deserve recognition. Douglas also reminds us of just how good he can be given the right role. He slips effortlessly back into Gecko like a custom suit. Moreover, given his recent personal disasters, its actually quite touching to see him as Gecko mourning a son lost to drugs and proclaiming the all-consuming greed that ruined him to be “a cancer”. It’s a shame then that Stone has him in the background for so long, leaving the film to be solely supported by LaBeouf’s girly shoulders. When Gecko eventually comes tearing back to his shark like, cigar-chomping ways its not nearly soon enough to save the film.
Oliver Stone can’t make movies. And given the evidence in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he can’t make sequels either.