It’s difficult to watch a movie like Wall Street in this day and age. A film focused on greed, excess, and the stock market doesn’t need to be captured on cinema, it’s presented on CNN daily. Director Oliver Stone takes a leap of faith in returning to the world of Gordon Gecko but is able to adapt the films mores to our time. Sadly Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps is all over the place in its attempts to make characters just the right amount of unlikable before making you love them, scattering around more jargon then you can shake a stick at, and going far longer than necessary. Fans of Stone’s original will be disappointed and new fans will see this as another corporate thriller about money being the root of all evil.
After spending eight years of his life in prison Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) returns to a world where “greed is legal.” With no family waiting for him Gordon wishes to reconnect with his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Winnie is set to marry aspiring stockbroker Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) who is intrigued by Gordon and enters into a deal to learn the tools of the trade while trying to reconnect father and daughter. As that is happening Jacob’s mentor and boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) loses everything in the stock market collapse and kills himself. Lusting for revenge against the man who forced Zabel to suicide Moore becomes closer and closer to Gecko while trying to take down Wall Street rock star Bretton James (Josh Brolin).
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps could be described as Wall Street for Dummies in that it details the big stock market collapse of 2008, the bailing out of the banks and the state of the housing industry. It’s a slump we’re still trying to get out of and Wall Street 2 does a lot to show how big business and Wall Street is responsible for a lot of it. Gordon Gecko, the ultimate icon of the 80’s, is forced to adapt to a world where excess is still king but it comes at the hand of insurance companies and the stock market. There’s even a joke at one time about how Gecko went to prison for eight years for a relatively minor crime compared to what the bigwigs in New York are able to get away with. At the same time Gordon is forced to focus on his family and what he’s lost. The strongest aspects of the movie are when Gordon is attempting to reconcile with Winnie. A very poignant scene at the Met between father and daughter is sharply written and emphasizes that while Gordon may be the ultimate jackass, he does love his children in his way. The movie does run far too long in this bid to reconnect Gordon and Winnie but it does present the strongest acting and writing.
Despite the movie’s flaws overall the cast does a phenomenal job. Michael Douglas seamlessly slips back into the world of Gordon Gecko, again straddling that fine line between pompous ass and utter genius. Douglas himself is just as older and wiser as Gordon and the actor doesn’t try to slip in time with young girls or anything, he’s beyond, he simply wants to make money while he’s still got time to do it. Frank Langella turns in a surprisingly heartfelt performance as Louis Zabel, a man who has watched the stock market rise and fall and can’t believe the corruption that is ridiculously flaunted. His character at times seems to be the only man doing anything for a noble cause and watching the man get beaten down is sad and unsettling. Josh Brolin is also deliciously wicked as main villain Bretton James. James is meant to be the “new” Gecko, a man more than willing to stab his best friend in the front and loves the excess. A lone scene of Gecko and James sparring is not enough; the movie could have easily been about the two men alone.
A word to the wise, if you don’t know anything about the stock market you’ll probably spend a majority of the film confused. For some reason the movie feels a need to always emphasize the jargon and at times it seems like you’re watching C-SPAN. On top of that Stone feels the need to include animations to describe what the characters are discussing, at one point doing a live PowerPoint presentation on fusion energy as Jacob Moore is talking as if the audience needs visual aides. He also seems to be talking down to the audience at times, having bubbles floating higher and higher into the air when things are going bad…as if we don’t know what those mean. In terms the acting the young stars are the weak link throughout the movie. LaBeouf and Mulligan look cute but their story follows the predictable “guy gets in over his head and worries too much about money than his relationships” so it’s easy to figure out where the characters will end up. It’s also hard to believe Winnie would forgive Jacob after his loses 100 million dollars of her money in a makeshift ponzi scheme, whether or not she wants it. Another issue is how “charitable” these kids are. Both Winnie and Jacob spend a majority of screen time talking about how they hate money and want to donate it to charity, the majority of Jacob’s plot focuses on him trying to get money for a green energy company, yet the audience is shocked that they’re willing to throw away 100 million dollars in the 2008 economy. Mulligan is also flat pointless in this film, going from smiling to tears in nanoseconds, mainly because her character is so flat.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn’t the greatest movie, and it is by far the inferior to the original, but it presents the economy as it is. It’s a bit hard to watch now considering the subject matter has been treaded over so much but fine performances from Douglas, Langella and Brolin are more than enough to keep you focused, but you might get bored around the hour thirty mark.