As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, a young Wall Street trader (Shia LeBeouf) partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) on a two-tiered mission: To alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader's mentor.

Convoluted sequel goes soft on corporate sharks.

Oliver Stone has grabbed with both hands the mega-budget that 20th Century Fox have provided for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and created his most richly cinematic film in years. But if the 1987 original pulsed with the lure of capitalism’s evil temptations, the sequel’s heartbeat is one of idealism and romance.

Sweeping, CGI-aided aerial shots through the New York cityscape pad out Stone’s convoluted 134 minute drama, which ultimately struggles to balance the dizzying financial minutiae that dominates the lives of Dow-minions like Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) and the romance of young, rich love that he enjoys with leftist web-publisher Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Into their lives come two unforeseen destructive forces – the GFC and Gordon Gekko (a weathered Michael Douglas). Winnie is Gekko’s estranged daughter; Gekko soon becomes Jacob’s confidante; and the ruthlessness of the modern stock-market manipulator, personified by cold-blooded Bretton James (Josh Brolin), all play into Stone’s morality fable. It’s a heady mix that reflects the ballsy storytelling approach that made the director the cause celebre a decade ago.

But if moments work – speeches, confrontations, visual flourishes – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps never commits to a story strand long enough to completely engage. Interest in the film’s narrative ebbs and flows with the required plotting needed to move the film forward; Stone nails the intent of most scenes, but loses sight of the overall flow of his picture. Details important to the third act payoff are scantly registered and revelations become less fluid. Frankly, Stone seems disinterested in his story as the film progresses.

Perhaps this is because Stone has more on his mind than the bland plotting of Allan Loeb’s and Stephen Schiff’s script. His disdain for the self-appointed upper class of New York’s elite – the symbolic manifestations of America’s worshipping of the almighty dollar – is evident in his lingering shots of botoxed, over-tanned society dames and surgically-manipulated facades; a fundraising event involving all of Manhattan’s well-to-do takes on a Fellini-esque level of grotesque caricature. When Gordon Gekko is at his most venal, it’s when he is dressing himself in the gaudy over-priced garb of the wealthy.

Of course, the most compelling aspect for any 40-something audience member or film reviewer (and no doubt for the profit-centric studio as well) is Douglas’ return to the iconic character of Gordon Gekko. And he’s great in the role, no doubt about it. The sly alpha-predator in a jungle of carnivores, Gekko manipulates and educates the showy wannabes who think they own the titular strip. The film is not about him and his humanising never rings true, but Douglas pinpoints the occasional gems the script offers up and he has some great lines and towering scenes. (His misjudged, poorly-concieved encounter with Charlie Sheen, reprising his 'Bud Fox’ character from the original, would have played a lot better as a DVD extra; Sheen’s character, gloating about his accumulated wealth, has become the antithesis of the repentant Fox, led away in cuffs at the end of the original. His appearance is indicative of the blurry moralising the film indulges in.)

Susan Sarandon’s showy role as Jacob’s mother could have been excised; cameos by the director, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and several cable financial channel hairdos, whose presence will mean a lot to market traders but nothing to most of us, are unnecessary. Acting legend Eli Wallach’s presence is welcome but his characterisation is oddly defined.

Perhaps Oliver Stone was not the director for this material. The reason Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps exists at all should be to dissect and savage the capitalist economy that brought the greatest nation on Earth to its knees. The angry young man that directed Salvador (1985), Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994) would have torn the GFC debacle apart.

But Stone has mellowed; World Trade Centre (2006) was a mawkish thank you to NY’s finest when we all hoped Stone would rip the terrorists a new one, and W. (2008) was so amazing because of its level-headedness. By making Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps a nice romance/patriarchal drama set against the bulls-&-bears world of high-finance, Stone has let the GFC off far too lightly and largely ignored the legacy of Gordon Gekko, his most famous creation.


2 hours 13 min
In Cinemas 22 April 2010,
Thu, 01/27/2011 - 11