WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
By Gary Murray
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LeBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan. Eli Walsh, Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella
Written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, Bryan Burrough
Directed by Oliver Stone
Running time 133 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Cable
Oliver Stone is a maverick director, taking on subjects with little fear of the public or the critics. Some of his earlier films have been brilliant but in the last few years he seems to have lost his edge. Lately he's been more know for the communist company he keeps than for the actions behind the camera. So when things are not working with the new path, the basic idea is to go back and dance with the one that brought you. So we get the sequel to the 1987 film Wall Street with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
The film starts 23 years after the last episode, on the cusp of the 2008 financial crisis. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is recently out of prison and pushing his new financial book predicting that bad things are just around the corner. He preaches that the mother of all evils is speculation. Seeing Gekko on CNBC is Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf) and his live-in girlfriend Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan). She is an activist who wants nothing more to do with her father and he is a stock market player with a dream to harness power from sea water. The scientist in charge of his pet project needs another 100 million to make it happen.
Jake works at KZI Investments for Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), an old war horse still plugging away at making money. Louis is much more like a father than a boss to Jake and the two share many strong emotional bonds. When the street gets a whiff of problems with the company, it triggers a sell-off which wrecks the reputation of Zabel's firm. We learn that Wall Street runs on rumor and innuendo and that getting old is for sissies. Young maverick Bretton James (Josh Brolin) offers to take over KZI investment company at a huge loss. This drives Louis to take his own life by jumping in front of a subway train.
Jake believes that he knows who is responsible and decides to take a tact of deceit just to get even. The scheme causes Bretton to lose millions but it also gets his attention. Impressed, Bretton offers Jake a job. While this is going on, Jake decides to contact Gordon to ask him for his daughter's hand in marriage. Gordon wants to see his daughter again and they work out a plan to mend fences. It all backfires but Jake and Gordon do bond. Soon Jake want Gordon to help him take down the people behind the all the Zabel rumors. The problem is that being indebted to Gordon Gekko may be the downfall of Jake Moore. How each side plays against the other to gain leverage is the basic premise behind Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The film just twists and turns, trying to be complicated and comes out more confusing. The plethora of writers weave a tale of greed and money where the acquisition of cash is a numbers came, a way to keep score and not a means to satisfaction. It isn't if one has enough, it is if one has more money that the other players. These are people who make money off other others, not making a better product. In the hands of Oliver Stone, it becomes more of an enlighten to what is more important.
Stone knows how to craft sequences to a dramatic whole, but like he did in JKF he just throws everything toward the screen, trying to make connections between the paint splatters. At times he makes some compelling film images and other times he is lost in his own excess. The grand plot points are not enough to save all the maestro touches. He has one of the best casts in years and makes the exercise dull
Shia LeBeouf is showing signs of becoming a character actor in the Brad or Leo vein. He gives a solid reading with some truth pathos, something seldom seen in his other roles. He is no movie star playing at acting, but a dramatic actors serving up his craft with subtle aplomb.
Of the entire cast, Carey Mulligan gives the freshest performance. She channels the spirit of a young Shirley MacLaine, with her sly smile and wicked pixie flair. She gives heart to a small role, giving a strong reading with a solid emotional focus. Her will makes this the kind of role that makes people sit up and notice.
Both Eli Wallace and Susan Sarandon have blink and you miss it roles, parts that do no justice to the actors who have taken them. They could have been played by bit actors and not seasoned thespians. Sarandon is especially wasted as Jake's mom, a woman lost in the idea of making money over doing something meaningful with her life.
With everything that has happened in his personal life, this should be another Oscar nomination for Michael Douglas. His two roles this year showed both depth and range, giving basically unsympathetic characters with anti-hero tendencies a heart and soul. He knows how to give life to vain characters, putting flesh and bone on stock characters. This is a performance that just draws one in.
I'm not going to be surprised if one sees Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps on some best of the year lists. I don't see this film on the level of some of Stone's earlier works but it does hold together due to the Oscar winning acting bullets in his six-shooter of a cast. The sum of the parts doesn't equal a whole cinema experience but it is better than most everything shown in 2010.