By Brian Lafferty
September 25, 2010 (San Diego)--Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens with Gordon Gekko being released from a federal penitentiary in the year 2001. Among the personal items given back to him is his mobile phone, one of those ugly giant cell phones that are an eyesore today but were trendy in the late 1980s. Gekko exits the penitentiary and sees everybody else being picked up, including one ex-convict in a limousine. But nobody comes for him. His face exudes loneliness. Here was a man who was big and rich twenty-five years ago but now nobody cares about him.
So begins the sequel to Oliver Stone’s brilliant 1987 Wall Street. Gekko appears repentant and even writes a book about how greed might not be so good after all. He tries to repair a relationship with his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
Despite getting top billing, the primary focus on the movie is young trader Jake Moore (Shia Lebeouf). His mentor (Frank Langella) commits suicide after his corporation is bought out by the slimy Bretton James (Josh Brolin). At the same time he’s dating Winnie, who vehemently disapproves when he enlists her father’s help in getting revenge on James, whom he blames for his mentor’s suicide.
In an era where sequels are more plentiful than ever, Money Never Sleeps is one of the year’s most fresh. Screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff wisely avoid a retread of the first film. Whereas the original took place before the 1987 stock market crash, Money Never Sleeps shows us the beginnings of the current financial crisis. The movie frames the crisis from Wall Street’s point of view and by doing that I actually learned more about it than anything I have ever seen or read on the news. The best instance of this is through Gordon Gekko’s university lecture. It is informative without being laced with jargon and memorable thanks in large part to Michael Douglas’s bravado and charisma.
The movie looks good, too. The visuals and production design in the first one were sterile but the writing and performances were the keys to that movie’s success. Many of the sets this time around have an extravagant opulence which is appropriate for the movie’s themes of greed. Take the offices of the New York Federal Bank, for example, which are laden with dark, rich wood. The banquets are colorfully lit and take place in grand halls.
The movie has only one major flaw and that was the ending. It is a satisfactory ending but director Oliver Stone and the screenwriters opt for one that wraps everything up neat, sweet, and tidy. Up until the last reel, the movie is pessimistic yet hopeful. The ending retains the hope but switches from pessimism to fully loaded optimism. The ending isn’t bad but it is a major disappointment; I felt like I was watching a different movie during the last fifteen minutes. What I look for in movies is not a happy ending but one that is satisfactory and brings closure in a way that maintains the tone of the preceding events.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps never measures up to the 1987 classic but it is so fresh and the screenwriters explore deeply so much new territory that it is a worthy sequel. That, and the fine performances by Michael Douglas (who hasn’t missed a beat), Shia LeBeouf (giving one of his finest performances I have seen), and Carey Mulligan make this movie work.