Tuesday, September 28, 2010

619 - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps review

Gordon Gekko is back, out of prison and as ruthless as ever. 22 years after “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” became a cultural staple representative of a destructive thirst for wealth, Oliver Stone has returned to Wall Street just in time for our generation’s great financial meltdown. Some things, like greed, never really change, but others do. If I weren’t aware of Oliver Stone’s documentaries lavishing such fine chaps as Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro with praise, I might be tempted to say that he’s cooled down a bit.

Look at the film’s treatment of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). He’s out of a decade’s worth of prison and seemingly a little repentant, though his use of the phrase “victimless crime” calls his remorse into question. But he’s not the villain we saw in Stone’s “Wall Street” back in 1988. Gekko loves his estranged daughter (Carey Muligan), warns crowds of an upcoming market crash (this is set in 2008, mind you), and kindly gives elderly women financial advice. Sure, he’s still a bit of a cad, as we know he has to be. But now he’s just short of being the hero, a bad guy that we all want to believe has a heart after all.

It’s funny how our culture often takes popular villains and then insists on turning them into sort of heroic characters. Think Darth Vader, the Terminator, or even the Devil. I just never figured that I’d see Oliver Stone participating in such a thing, but then again, I should remember those documentaries. In “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” there’s Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a new hotshot Wall Street trader who inherits the role that Charlie Sheen, another great guy, had in the first film. Jake’s engaged to Gekko’s daughter, a liberal blogger, and is himself a gooey liberal at heart, his pet project being to get $100 million for an alternative energy company. He takes a job with his mentor’s nemesis (Josh Brolin), whether for revenge or an insatiable desire to ascend the ladder, I’m not sure, but then again, I don’t think Jake is, either. But his wheelings and dealings are surprisingly scandal-free, filled with little idealistic lectures about changing the world for the better while he makes a fortune. Jake’s such a bleeding heart that he lectures his real estate agent mother (Susan Sarandon) on the need to get “honest” work as a nurse.

Now, you tell me: would a Wall Street trade ever say that to anyone? It’s preposterous, but actually part of this film’s charm. This is the second least vitriolic film Stone has ever made after “World Trade Center,” one without bitterness or even a great need to lecture. There’s a fairly involving, fast-paced, and occasionally even stylish little thriller here, with financial underhandedness and stock market wizardry in place of sex and violence. No doubt the economic climate of the past few years inspired a return to this setting that has come to be cinema’s most well-known depiction of business run wild, though I was pleasantly surprised by how easy-going Stone is. Hang on, things can be made right, he seems to be saying. Ideologically, I can think of much worse messages than that.

3 out of 5

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