Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: But The Audience Will

Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a toothless, corny disgrace of a sequel, complete with a rambling plot, heavy-handed symbolism, bad performances, and an ending so awful that the Gordon Gekko from the first film would have vomited upon seeing what Stone does to him. The first Wall Street was so timely that it was shocking. This sequel is shocking in how irrelevant and unnecessary it is. Not only does it absolutely stain the legacy of perhaps Stone’s greatest character, it wastes a cast of usually fine actors and bogs them down with bad accents, preachy dialogue, and pacing that seems drenched in Nyquil. Not since the Star Wars prequels have we had such a misguided attempt to elaborate on a great film.

Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) has just gotten out of jail after eight years of incarceration. He’s handed a big clunky cell phone from the 1980s, in the film’s one moment of intentional levity. Flash forward to 2008– a date Stone picked in order to set the film right before the big market crash, which really only succeeds in making his film seem dated even before its release. Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf)– get it? his last name sounds like “more”?– is a trader for an investment bank getting ready to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). His mentor, Lewis (Frank Langella), is the managing director of this Bear Sterns-esque bank, which is going under. Lewis tries to get a bailout, but his effort is blocked by another investment bank’s CEO, Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Meanwhile, Jake grows closer to Gordon behind Winnie’s back. Gordon wants to meet up with Winnie, but Winnie wants nothing to do with him. Bretton wants to have Jake as a protege– Gordon and Jake both want revenge against Bretton. All of these plotlines don’t really weave together– they’re just lumped together awkwardly.

The script is full of jargon that fails to be revealing to the common man who doesn’t know a stock from a bond. The first Wall Street was jargon-heavy too, but at least it helped us understand what was at stake. This film seems to assume that you are completely enraptured by the fate of this investment bank solely because Frank Langella looks like a cute old man in suspenders and a bow tie. It’s unfair to say Stone doesn’t attempt to make us feel what’s at stake, because he fills the film with long expository scenes where people talk about the state of the economy and how doomed we all are. Cinema is a visual medium: if you can show us the message, show us, don’t just tell us. Stone seems to be getting off by telling us over and over again. There’s a slight problem with this, however… the movie takes place in the past! We know we’re not actively doomed, because we went to the ATM to get the cash to buy this movie ticket and dollar bills came out. If the idea wasn’t to tell us we’re actively doomed, but to emphasize to us just how close we came to doomed a few years ago, there must have been more effective ways of getting that point across other than having characters deliver them in long-winded boring speeches that only seem threatening because all of the actors are using very stressed tones of voice.

Stone isn’t helping the performers by giving them unclear character motivations. Gekko’s motivations were clear in the first film, and when he did what he did, we understood why. Here, we don’t understand, and it seems Michael Douglas doesn’t either. He wiggles back and forth between old school Gekko and emotional Gekko, without rhyme or reason. He’s motivated by love. Then revenge. Then greed. Then revenge again. Then love again. Douglas plays all the scenes in a jowly one-note manner, largely because how else can you play an unplayable role? LaBeouf does a version of his usual fast-talker routine that has made him such a big star, and while he does his best, he’s not covering any new ground at all. His character is generally a good guy– Gekko and Bretton try to convince us through multiple speeches that he’s not unlike them, but because he loves his fiance and is motivated by avenging the man who changed his life, we are never convinced that he’s anything other than good. Josh Brolin does his best, and in a better-written movie, he’s great in this role, but here he goes from mildly menacing to hamfisted and nowhere in between. Susan Sarandon is laughably awful as Shia’s mom; from her terrible accent to her over-the-top emoting, if she doesn’t get a Razzie nomination, the system is broken. Same goes for Charlie Sheen’s sitcomesque cameo as Gekko’s old adversary Bud Fox– except that Bud Fox seems to have not learned much from his experiences in the first film, nor has he held any sort of resentment for what happened. Why show him if there’s no tension and the banter is mediocre? It’s another of a series of drastic misfires by Stone.

A couple of people emerge unscathed. Langella does okay in a role that would’ve perchance made a better if less marketable main character in a different film. Carey Mulligan always does good work, and here she brings some humanity and sympathy to a one-note whiny part. Finally, Eli Wallach is great as the old guard of bankers, the best in the film– I’d love to see him do more work at this age. But someone I’m not interested in seeing more from is Stone revisiting old characters. Several flashy visual touches are downright corny– tracing the New York skyline to try to also trace the relative highs and lows of the market not only doesn’t really give any symbolic meaning, but there’s no way it can be accurate. Even worse: several appearances by Lewis’s ghost to Jake, including some of Lewis’s actual death even though Jake didn’t witness it, got actual chuckles from my audience. What is he trying to achieve with these touches? The end of the film seems to spit in the face of everything Gordon Gekko stood for, a pat happy ending that would’ve been merely groanworthy in other films yet manages to be insulting in this. Stone went off one of his best films of the last two decades, W., which was marked by attention to character and a shortage of flash and grandstanding, and immediately dove headfirst into all of the things that have dragged down his work throughout his career. Most embarrassing of all: he doesn’t seem to have anything new or notable or controversial to say. The end credits of Adam McKay’s The Other Guys was a more revealing look at economic corruption. This movie crashed hard, so hard that if you have Oliver Stone stock, you’re going to have a lot of trouble selling it in the future.

~ by russellhainline on October 5, 2010.

One Response to “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: But The Audience Will”

  1. I want to watch this next

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