Oliver Stone directs an all-star cast in the much anticipated sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” delivering a narrative worthy of its namesake. Much like the reality of the famed stock exchange address, the movie fluctuates between riveting scenes with top-notch performances then plummeting into excessive, distracting narrative and unrequited cinematographic montages.
While the convoluted plot certainly seems a tad overdone, it nonetheless reflects a genuine take on the frantic, competitive and sometimes absurdly chaotic lifestyle of the 21st century set at a pace often dictated by artificial intelligence and media controversy.
The movie sets off with the release from prison of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the corporate tycoon protagonist of “Wall Street" (1987), a couple of decades after the events that unravel in the original movie.
His estranged daughter, Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan) is involved in a relationship with Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf), a young ambitious trader mentored into the world of stock exchange by one of Wall Street’s last honorable men, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Jake is ethically grounded yet predictably ends up making unethical choices in the process of actively pursuing a moral balance.
Jake is coached in that pursuit by Gekko, whom he is fascinated with. His nemesis is Bretton James, artfully delivered by Josh Brolin, who plays the head of a brokerage firm rivaling Zabel’s on the stock exchange market. Jake’s mother, in a noteworthy performance by Susan Saradon, is a real estate agent gambling without guarantees on saving her job in the midst of the economic meltdown and housing crisis. Winnie drives the moral pole of the story, working for an independent website with the aim of making a difference through truthful news blogging and discussion.
In this character-driven movie, the ensemble cast brings many rich performances to the screen. Frank Langella delivers a memorable performance while Michael Douglas fills comfortably once more the shoes of the iconic Gekko, bringing his character renewed charisma and style. LaBeouf delivers a solid and serious performance where he admits that his character’s fascination with Gekko’s was infused with the actor’s own admiration towards Michael Douglas.
Recent Oscar nominee Mulligan (“An Education”) radiates with screen presence in a subtle and touching performance. Stone invasively nods to the first “Wall Street" movie by throwing in a cameo appearance of Gekko’s former protégé/victim/righter-of-wrongs-turned-wrong-doer Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, a quickly forgettable scene at best.
Stone does a great job of incorporating the recent Wall Street crash and the actuality of the economic crisis. The concept of "moral hazard" is at the nexus of this movie defined by Jake Moore in a blast to his mother as, "once you’re bailed out, what’s to stop you from taking another shot?" It drives all the relationships in the film, whether the characters make their choices tactically or driven by an emotional need. The cocktail of those relationships, caught up in their characters’ individual dilemmas, offers sly and intriguing outcomes operating on different levels at once of interconnectivity.
Gekko once preached, "Greed is good" and set the world of Wall Street on fire in 1987, both in the movie and in the real world where young brokers found themselves inspired by the flamboyant character. In an ironic turn of events, Gekko, Stone and the new movie now find themselves reflecting on the downfall that the application of this motto has created. The world of the sequel, set in 2008, finds itself paying the price for its greed-driven trends of the 80s and 90s, where financial irresponsibility has taken precedence over caution. The sequel thus sparks an interesting dialogue with the original creation.
“Money Never Sleeps" doesn’t hold a candle to the original movie and may not grow into the same cult status, yet each of those movies reflects rather adequately the times that they were created in.
As focused, gluttonous and consistent as the 80s were, it is much harder to represent the 21st century with a concise vision and to put one’s finger on its defining elements as indeed there are too many. In that sense, the couple Winnie Gekko and Jake Moore portrays the up-an-coming generation’s struggle to find a balance between family, work, social responsibility and generally being technologically- and economically-unhinged in a fast-paced schizophrenic society where choices have become unlimited.
Stone sums it up, "you go with Shia LaBeouf’s character and Carey Mulligan’s and you try to understand what young people are facing and how scary it is and how smart they have to be to make it." He concludes, "In many ways, I love the original but this one has more complexity to it" as indeed none of the characters, big or small, seems to have a steel grip on the events unfolding. In their vulnerability, they become more accessible and less archetypal.
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" comes off a bit messy but will certainly give its audience much food for thought. It is a good, intellectually stimulating watch with social commentary that may or may not meet with everyone’s perception of present times. This reviewer’s inclination, in a vein worthy of the movie’s uneven denouement, is divided and for that very reason appreciative.
Carey Mulligan plays Gekko’s daughter, Winnie, who gets involved in a relationship with Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf), a young ambitious trader.