The once fearless director Oliver Stone seems a little scared of himself and his subject in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Rather than shredding those most responsible for the financial crisis of 2008, as would the Stone of old, he creates some convoluted arguments about the causes and possible solutions, while trying to give us a kinder, gentler Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
I need a kinder, gentler Gordon Gekko like I need a Halloween movie where Michael Myers gives candy and smiles to teenagers rather than disemboweling them.
The film begins in 2002 as a weary Gekko leaves prison after serving eight years for financial crimes with nobody to greet him at the gate and an antiquated portable phone in hand.
Cut to 2008, and Gekko is out promoting a book, renting a ritzy Manhattan apartment, and trying to reenter the life of his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Carey is engaged to young broker Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who really wants to be rich, but he has a conscience, too. He wants a lot of money so he can help finance a new experiment in fusion energy technology—a lame way to make him virtuous.
Jake sees Gekko giving a book-hawking speech about the current state of the economy in which he does a cute spin on his famous “Greed is good!” line by saying, “Greed is good … now, it seems it’s legal.” When was greed ever illegal? Yes, greed has inspired many an illegal act, but greed itself isn’t illegal last time I checked. No authorities showed up on my porch trying to bust me for wanting a boat. I don’t have a porch, nor do I really want a boat, but that’s not important right now.
Jake introduces himself to Gekko as his future son-in-law, unbeknownst to Winnie, and they form some sort of alliance where Jake tries to help Gekko get back with his daughter while Gekko advises Jake on how to avenge the death of his mentor, Louis (Frank Langella). Louis decided to make out with an oncoming train after the evil Bretton James (Josh Brolin) helped kill his banking firm.
I was about halfway into this thing when I realized it would be a wimpy turn for Stone. The screenplay offers generally negative talk about the current state of global economic affairs, but it never truly focuses on anything. Stone spends most of the movie showing us the Gekko family drama and, seriously, who gives a crap?
The true travesty comes in the way Stone sort of teases with a sinister Gekko twist, one that would make the movie so much better, then pulls back. Instead, he offers a warm, fuzzy redemption for Gekko. Sure, it’s a dirty fact that bad people can write checks and get out of trouble all of the time, but Stone does nothing to show us how despicable this is. Film audiences have grown to love Mr. Douglas in the 23 years since the original came out, so Stone seems to think we can’t accept him as the complete monster he was and should remain.
And nuts to the scene where the original film’s Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) shows up at some benefit Gekko is attending, resulting in a nice, jovial conversation. Gekko acts like he’s just bumped into a beloved member of his high school football team, and not the guy who infiltrated his camp and started his legal troubles. Come on, Oliver! Gekko could’ve at least thrown a drink in his face before making nice.
Throw this in the bin with unnecessary sequels like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and Lethal Weapon 4. (You know, the one where Mel Gibson and Danny Glover have some sort of psychic connection?) The joy of seeing Douglas back in perhaps his most infamous role is ruined because Oliver Stone wusses out and continues to deteriorate as a director.