Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Review
The original Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) has proved to be one of the great cinema characters of the late 20th century, a state-of-the-art grotesque for the Reagan/Thatcher grab-all-you-can yuppie era, and for director Oliver Stone a fitting icon for the hubris all of that entailed. How apt, then, that he should return in a sequel set in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of 2008 onwards, where, as he points out in a lecture, greed is not only still good but also legal. But can an older, more subdued and possibly reformed Gordon Gekko hold sway over a movie in the way he did back in 1987?
Like many sequels, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps involves a retread of the original’s plot, with trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) filling Charlie Sheen’s shoes as the young whippersnapper on his way up the greasy pole, looking to the old Svengali figure for help and guidance. Jake happens to be in a relationship with Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and sees himself as the go-between in their putative reconciliation. Moreover, when Jake’s boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is driven to destruction by the activities of rival banker Bretton James (Josh Brolin), Jake enlists Gekko’s savvy in his quest for revenge. But as Jake gets in deeper with the old man, Winnie warns him of lurking danger.
On the surface Gekko appears a much mellowed-out character. Having spent five years in court battles and eight years in prison since his fall in ’87, he is released into the early 2000s, with his ’80s brick-style mobile phone returned to him—a potent symbol of the dinosaur status he now has. In the years leading up to him meeting Jake, he pursues a career as a lecturer and author, producing a book on greed to coincide with the sub-prime debacle. Now his grey hair has a professorial fluffiness and he wears light-coloured suits and open-necked shirts, visibly standing back from the hard edge of the financial-trading world.
For much of the movie Gekko is on the sidelines as Jake lock horns with Bretton James, who, with his penchant for fast motorbikes, collecting Goya and short selling his adversaries down the drain whilst chomping on the obligatory fat cigar, is the new kingpin ‘greed-is-good’ merchant on the block. Bud Fox (a much-aged Charlie Sheen) puts in a cameo appearance to spar with Gekko about old times, further referencing the former movie. And by way of visual style, Oliver Stone employs many split-screen and picture-in-picture devices, which, enhanced by CGI, give the film a retrofitted air. In one sequence, streams of financial data float through space in the canyons between Wall Street’s skyscapers—very pretty, but what is it telling us?
The simple fact is that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps lacks the impressive story arc of Wall Street and in trying to emulate the original piecemeal, it comes across as very bitty and meandering. Certainly it’s good in parts, but the parts don’t quite add up. With the Gekko family saga on the one hand and Jake’s revenge on the other, it feels like two movies interwoven, with neither panning out totally satisfactorily. There are lots of talky scenes concerning financial wheeler dealering, which will perhaps leave those unversed in the ways of high finance a little bewildered. What this movie really needs is an injection of the schematic simplicity of the pork bellies/frozen orange juice rationale of Trading Places!
And what moviegoers no doubt really want to see, more than anything, is the Gordon Gekko of old, the financial Hannibal Lecter on the prowl once again. Well they will not be entirely disappointed, for that Gekko does put in a brief appearance, his hair slicked back, kitted out in sharp suits, stiff collars and ties, cigar in hand and lascivious grin on his face—a Batman villain back in costume. But times have changed and so must Gordon.
At 133 minutes, Money Never Sleeps feels long and protracted, and the denouements of its threads are unsurprising. Michael Douglas is great to watch again, as are several of the supporting cast, including an angsty Frank Langella, a scatty Susan Sarandon, nonagenarian sage Eli Wallach and Josh Brolin, who has something of the air of Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. But when all said and done, as a sequel it’s no Godfather II.