The title of Oliver Stone’s new film is Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. For all I know, that may be true—my relationship with Money, to date, hasn’t been intimate enough to say. If so, then maybe Money should consider sitting through this film.
It’s a sequel, of course, to Wall Street, Stone’s 1987 hit. An engaging, fast-moving dramatization of the insider-trading scandals of that decade, it gave Michael Douglas perhaps the best role of his career, as Mephistophelean corporate-raider reptile Gordon Gekko, & his most enduring onscreen line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”
The new film, directed by Stone but written by Allan Loeb & Stephen Schiff, seems to have been occasioned by the irony of the relative quaintness of Gordon’s mischief by comparison to the nihilistic atrocities that brought about 2008’s meltdowns. Set on the eve of that collapse, it follows Shia LeBeouf as Jacob, an up-&-coming trader with a venerable, too-big-to-fail firm. Jacob’s girlfriend is Gordon’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), a typical Oliver Stone paragon: She runs a leftie website & rejects everything her old man stood for.
As for Gordon, he’s long out of prison, a bestselling author & a hit on the lecture circuit—he warns of the coming apocalypse in stand-up one-liners, & the audiences roar with laughter at his dead-on predictions. But while he can afford high-rise digs in Manhattan, he sheepishly confesses “It’s a rental.” He longs to get back into the big-time investment game. Enter Jacob, who wants Gordon for a mentor just like Charlie Sheen did, & barters with him for advice in return for help patching up his relationship with Winnie.
Douglas is jolly fun here, as sardonic & cheerfully febrile as he was in the first film. He can’t do as much with the role, because Stone & the writers can’t quite figure out who they want Gordon to be this time, & their indecision ultimately diffuses the impact of the performance. Still, when Douglas is onscreen Money Never Sleeps is at its widest awake.
Nor is his the only good acting in the picture. The great charm & fascination that Shia LaBeouf clearly holds for many people continues to elude me, I regret to say; his work is heartfelt but one-note, & on the whole, the same goes for Mulligan. There are fine turns by Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach & Susan Sarandon, however, & Frank Langella brings a whiff of genuinely tragic desperation & anger to his role as LaBeouf’s original mentor.
But all of this doesn’t amount to enough, because Stone somehow can’t figure out how to set an exciting pace. The first film rocked & rollicked—except when it stopped dead for Stone’s pieties, of course—while this one glides along sedately, to pretty, lulling melodies by David Byrne & Brian Eno on the soundtrack. The movie isn’t dreadful to watch; there are good moments scattered throughout. But it isn’t compelling or absorbing. It dawdles & mopes its way to a half-hearted non-conclusion.
It’s odd that Stone comes across as flummoxed, almost cowed, by the latest round of financial outrages, since his usual style of hyperbolic rhetoric suits the subject to a degree that even his detractors would have a hard time disputing. But he doesn’t work up much hysteria, oddly. You can almost catch a subtle hint of “What’s the use?” under the movie.
The moral at which the first film arrived was that, in truth, greed, to use exactly the correct word, isn’t good, that it isn’t right, that it doesn’t work. This movie makes the same point on a psychotically bigger scale, but apart from that scale it doesn’t really have anything to add, except a glum, resigned awareness that nobody was listening the first time.
RIP to the legendary/notorious Eddie Fisher, departed at 82.