Wall Street

September, 2010, Drama


Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


There are certain roles which define an entire screen career, pushing a complete body of work into the background as the public fastens on a single performance to define an actor’s screen persona. Johnny Weissmuller starred in 29 movies over nearly three decades, but he’ll forever be identified with Tarzan, loin-cloth, rolling yodel and all. Despite a career which includes appearances more than a 100 films, the mention of Anthony Hopkins’ name immediately conjures up images of the satanically cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The same case can be made for Michael Douglas’ portrayal of Gordon Gecko, the smarmy financial villain who swindled his way to an Oscar and screen immortality in director Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

In the wake of this country’s financial meltdown over the last two years, it should surprise no one that Stone and Douglas have revived and updated their memorable cinematic character in this handsomely mounted sequel. While it lacks the narrative clarity and sleek cynicism of its predecessor, Stone and screen writers Allan Loeb & Stephen Schiff manage to load the first third of the film with some bracingly written observations about how we got into the mess in which we now find ourselves, while the cameras of legendary cinematographer Rodrigo  Prieto (Frida, Brokeback Mountain,  Amores Peros) capture life in New York City’s  financial fast-track community with all the glitter & glamour it actually contains. But despite a cleverly understated  performance by Douglas and fine supportive work  from a  horde of familiar character actors (Eli Wallach,  Frank Langella,  Susan Sarandon, Austin Pendleton) Stone’s soap-operatic storyline and lumpish performances from Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan drain all the energy out of the movie.  The result  is an overly long (2hours 15 minutes)  grab-bag  of the director’s well-known passion  for conspiracy theories welded to an improbable melodramatic  romance.  Despite its occasional ability to soar above the mangled events of the past few years, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps limps off the screen as yet another attempt to wed social realism with Hollywood fantasy.

The film begins with Gekko’s  release from  federal  prison after serving an 8-yr. stretch for the crimes which were detailed in this movie’s  predecessor. Broke,  ostracized and anxious to renew his relationship with only daughter Winnie ,(Mulligan) Gekko does what American’s  have come to expect from its notorious personalities - -  he  writes a bestseller, peddling  it to  a new  generation of the young and gullible. But this time around,  Gekko’s  on the side of fiscal prudence  and responsibility, inveighing against  the hopelessly complex financial instruments and astronomical  leverage which have caused  so much wide spread economic damage. In the first reel of this movie, Gekko’s dire predictions are underscored by well-mounted vignettes in which various and sundry Wall Street financial institutions are characterized as the rapacious, dangerously unstable organizations recent events have painfully demonstrated they turned out to be.  The screenplay scores its best points in  presenting  these brief glimpses into the machinations which led to the failure of major financial firms and the collapse of the real  estate bubble which supported them.

But this movie  isn’t  a documentary;  Stone and his writers burden it with the story of Gekko’s efforts to re-establish  his relationship with Winnie, who operates a  non-profit website dedicated  to  truth and better living through  ecology. Although she professes  to loathe  all things connected  to her father’s crooked past,  she’s living the high life with Jake Moore, (LaBeouf) a young stock market superstar (not unlike her  Dad)  who’s trying to raise money for a new clean technology company that’s trying to generate energy source based on sea water rather than fossil fuels. Wandering through a storyline with more  black holes  than can be found at the outer edges of our universe,  Moore manages to meet Gekko  behind Winnie’s back to  enlist the ex-con’s aid  in bringing down a Wall Street titan who was responsible for harassing Moore’s mentor into  suicide.  Throw in an explicable  motorcycle race through the Connecticut  countryside, innumerable scenes  of cigar smoking and fittings  for bespoke  suits and  a  well-timed sonogram and  you have  Stone’s version of what happens to materialistic money-grubbers…they wind  up happily fulfilled,  pursuing  the goals and financial  dreams which Stone’s  personally-professed opposition to capitalism finds so offensive. If ever a man behind  the camera  has sold  out the dreams of his youth (this was  the director whose first film  was the brilliant - - and blatantly political - - Salvador) this is it; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps cruises to a pabulum-soaked denouement in which Gekko’s decency is established even as his daughter’s supposed  moral  virtue is quietly bought off.

As Winnie, Ms. Mulligan, fresh from the critical raves she received for her role in last year’s  An Education, brings little more  than those famous pursed lips  to her performance; she  exists more as a plot  device  than a  person and this  otherwise gifted  young actress just pouts her way through the film. Even so, she manages to triumph over LaBeouf - - what alchemy has taken this baby-faced performer from the video game world (Transformers) and made him a movie star? He lacks both personality and depth …and those teenage, clean-cut good looks (the actor is actually 24) won’t last forever.

It’s plot and acting deficiencies notwithstanding, this movie’s  like an exasperating piece of contemporary classical music, whose theme confounds while its riffs entice; Stone’s  latest has moments  of soaring clarity and moral outrage , even if he ultimately drowns  them in the platitudes of the Gekko family’s domestic struggles. If you must see this one, stay until Gekko confronts his old nemesis from the first film at a fund raiser The Metropolitan Museum of Art…everything after that is pretty much downhill.

The Verdict? High gloss,  early insights and then just more Hollywood gloss.

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