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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Up until the last ten minutes or so, I was really digging Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. It’s not that we needed to revisit Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (Michael Douglas), that classically evil rich white bad guy who preceded (some might say, foretold) all those rich (mostly) white (mostly) bad guys who built the dicey house of financial cards that very nearly collapsed the world economy when the bubble burst in 2008. But I didn’t mind seeing how director Oliver Stone thought Gekko would have evolved after spending those years behind bars.

Unfortunately the end result of Wall Street 2 isn’t as interesting as it could have been, in part because Stone cobbles together two stories without focusing sufficient attention on either to make us feel fully invested in them. We have the “Gordon Gekko” is back bit, which could have been interesting to explore in and of itself: What does a man like Gekko do while in prison for eight years? Does he give stock tips to his fellow prisoners in exchange for protection from having to play girlfriend to a big hairy guy named Snake? Write a book? Get religion? Plot revenge?

Stone kicks things off by showing us Gekko on the day of his release. Alone. he checks out, gets the few possessions he had on him when he checked in (there’s a chuckle moment when his eight-year-old “portable phone” is returned to him), leaves the guards and gates of prison life behind for his first breath of air as a free man, and watches as, one by one, all the other newly free ex-prisoners are met by friends or family. All except for Gekko, who’s left standing there alone, a shadow of his former self. Head bloody, as it were, but not unbowed. Because he’s Gordon Gekko, and if we know anything about Gekko from the first Wall Street, we know that his first order of business upon checking out of his extended stay in prison will be to rebuild, and to do it quickly.

And that — the mechanics of Gekko’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes of prison, would have been an interesting story to explore as well. But that’s not where Stone wanted to take this story. Or rather, we kind of get that story, but in a roundabout sort of way.

Instead, we meet a new character, Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf ), a stand-in, of sorts, for Charlie Sheen‘s inside-trading Bud Fox in the 1987 Wall Street. Jake’s also a Wall Street guy, but times being what they are, he’s a Wall Street guy with a heart — or at least, he’s a guy who likes making money, but if he can make it off “green” technology, then so much the better.

Jake’s girlfriend, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is Gordon Gekko’s daughter — who, although she has some serious Daddy Issues — has nonetheless decided to hook up with another (albeit kinder and gentler) Wall Street guy for her own romantic partner, which I suppose is a bit like an abused child marrying an abusive man when she grows up (personally, I thought Winnie could use a really good therapist, but I suppose that Winnie reclined on a couch telling her therapist what an asshole Daddy was would have made for a less interesting story, too).

But if you look at Winnie’s relationship path as a choice that tells you a lot about Winnie as a person and her conflicted emotional relationship with her father rather than a mere plot contrivance, it’s actually a pretty interesting angle for the story to take, so I was willing to see where Stone was going with it.

Jake’s mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is the head of an investment firm that, like so many firms did around the Great Bubble Bursting of 2008, takes an abrupt nosedive into financial disaster and bankruptcy. Josh Brolin‘s smooth-and-smarmy investment banker Brett (“I go by ‘Bretton’ these days) James oozes the entitlement attitude of Wall Street while bailing out Zabel’s company for, in essence, change he could scoop up from under his couch cushions. Things take a tragic turn and Jake starts to wonder just who had it in for Zabel (the bank and the man) and stood to benefit most from it failing.

Enter Gekko, who’s out of prison now and gunning for a comeback. In spite of knowing full well his girlfriend’s hatred of her father, Jake, as a Wall Street guy, can’t help but be drawn to this baddest of evil investors. Jake uses the ruse of “but it will be good for you, and for us, for you to reconcile with your dad, honey” as a means of getting closer to Gekko, then once he’s within range of Gekko’s ever canny Spidey-sense for idealistic young men who could be played to his advantage, Jake inevitably gets drawn into the plot Gekko’s weaving.

And for the most part, Stone plays all this out pretty well, making full use of split screens and fast-cut montages set to the perky, upbeat score by David Byrne of the Talking Heads (and yeah, that does mean the entire score sounds like an extended Talking Heads music video, which is a good or bad thing, depending on your fondness for that band’s sound — I dug it a lot). There are some moments here and there where the story is stitched together a bit loosely, and the overall tone of the film is more “Wall Street Lite” than “Wall Street: The Wrath of Gekko,” but still, the whole thing rolls along merrily at a fast-but-not-frantic pace, the storyline is intriguing, and the characters, for the most part, engaging.

Langella’s Louis breaks your heart, LaBoeuf was (for me at least) surprisingly engaging, and it’s always fun to watch Michael Douglas smarm it up as a seedy bad guy. Mulligan is fine in this, though she’s more of a side dish than an entree here, which was disappointing given her talents and makes her less interesting as a character than she might otherwise have been.

Where it all falls apart is at the end, when Stone rather abruptly seems to lose sight of everything he’s said about Gekko and men like him for all of one-and-three-quarters movies and wraps it all up in this bizarrely candy-coated ending that might as well have had everyone sitting around a campfire singing Kum-ba-freaking-ya. The ending, for me, just completely undid the film and made me wonder what in the hell Stone and the studio could possibly be thinking. If I’d stopped watching the film about ten minutes before the end, I would have left the theater happier with than I did for staying until the bitterly saccharine wrap-up. Blergh.

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2 Responses to “Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”

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