Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

September 20th, 2010 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

After rapidly fading careers in genres that weren’t their natural home, all the 80s action stars started returning to the sort of films that had made their names a few years back. Bruce Willis did a new Die Hard, Harrison Ford did a new Indiana Jones and Stallone went the whole hog with new Rocky and Rambo films.

2006 saw another 80s icon return in the form of a second Basic Instinct film. It bombed mercilessly and critics hated it, and the reason was because the smutty Eurotrash style that made Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 original such guilty fun was a relic from another era, as daggy as multicoloured leg warmers and high top sneakers.

A sequel to Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s definitive comment on the state of modern capitalism, faces similar challenges 23 years after the original. Back then, global economies were great and even the average bank clerk or courier driver had a rising standard of living. After the most recent bout of financial carnage, whole industries and entire nations lie in ruins, whole cities are deserted and people are being thrown out of jobs and houses at rates we only dreamed of in the recession of the late 80s and early 90s. Asking filmgoers to care about rich people who might end up slightly less rich is a huge ask.

But Stone does his best. After a few critical wobbles during the noughties with Alexander, W and World Trade Center, he himself might be going back to territory he knows to reclaim past glory. It’s the present day and young stock trader Jacob (LeBeouf) is riding the wave of a job at a wealthy brokerage and his relationship with his sweetheart Winnie (Mulligan). At the same time, Winnie’s estranged father and disgraced former big swinging dick Gordon Gecko has been released from prison and goes on the lecture circuit after publishing a book on the current state of affairs.

When his firm starts imploding following rumours of bad recommendations, Jacob tries to hold it together but realises he has his finger in a huge dyke, particularly when his boss and mentor Lewis (Langella) throws himself in front of a train.

He sets about wreaking revenge on slimy merchant bank chief Bretton (Brolin) who orchestrated the campaign against his boss, an alpha male weasel who’s so impressed with Jacob’s nefarious work he offers him a job. At the same time, Jacob has struck up a deal with Gekko — get his daughter talking to him again and Gekko will give Jacob the dirt he needs to finish Bretton off.

The global economy comes crashing down on the failed bedrock of the subprime mortgage crisis and Winnie pleads with Jacob to break ties with Gekko, knowing full well what her old man is capable of now he has a much bigger sandbox to play with.

Stone again manages to make men talking in offices exciting, and he wrests enough emotional tension from the script and performances to keep you engaged, although it feels a little like a studio executive has said ‘Michael Douglas? Nobody wants to watch an old man!’ It’s more Jacob and Winnie’s story than Gekko’s.

There are also some moments of high comedy you’ll appreciate. When Gekko gets out of prison and they return his belongings, one of them is an 80s-era, brick-style mobile phone. He walks outside and automatically makes his way towards the stretch limo only for a young gangster rapper to brush past him and get in. There’s also a cameo by Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox that feels a little shoehorned in but will raise a smile.

Stone gets the drama right and there’s a good sense of time and place in today’s world with the graphics of rising and falling stocks and doomsaying headlines. It just feels the tiniest bit wrong to watch attractive stockbrokers getting less than they wanted for their New York lofts when entire neighbourhoods of Detroit and New Orleans are crumbling and abandoned.

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