Thursday, September 30, 2010

Greed never sleeps

Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps has it's title explained by the ubiquitous manipulator Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) who stands in a busy subway car with the young and enterprising financial whizkid Jake Moore (Shia Leboeuf) as he waxes poetically about how money is a "bitch who never sleeps". The key word is bitch because it's the driving force behind merciless corruption, giant ego inspired game playing and soulless ambition at the cost of redemption. Gekko has just been released from prison after serving eight years for his crimes committed in the first Wall Street (1987) and now he emerges as a broken man who's written a book foreboding the market crash and is charming college students with his wit and candor in speaking engagements. But he's also looking for a second chance with the only person he may have left: his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) a liberal blogger who wants nothing to do with him. But since she is about to marry Jake, Gekko may have a window of opportunity to reenter her life by way of secret meetings with the young idealistic kid who's caught between the reserved and wise old sages of the old school and the pompous and killer-instinctive new school whose fear of a market downfall only fuels their greed even more. Gekko exists the middle as a kind of commentator.

Jake works hard at an old fashioned investment firm run by his father figure mentor, a weathered investor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) who mourns the forthcoming financial meltdown and is sold out of his own company by the oily Bretton James (Josh Brolin) who is the Gordon Gekko of today. Zabel, crushed by his loss of control, commits suicide and the devastated Moore is convinced James is responsible for motivating this so he turns to Gekko for advice on how to topple James in the most Machiavellian way possible. Gekko agrees as long as Jake can orchestrate a reconciliation between him and Winnie. But are Gordon Gekko's motives honorable considering his devious history?

The film deals with morally dubious themes in a skillful and knowing way; Can money earned dishonestly fund a greater good?--Jake works tirelessly to try and invest in green energy---and can someone akin to the devil compromise his nature to do the right thing?

Oliver Stone not only knows Wall Street, the location and the internal world, like the back of his hand, he managed to keep me engaged in this story that takes a larger and much more troubling look at the uncompromising and nasty financial world than his first foray into this milieu back in the go-go 1980s. The movie is also stunningly shot and captures the dizzying world of capitalism in a dynamic and sometimes feverish fashion.

As for the performances, they are unsurprisingly first rate. Even LeBoeuf, who by looking at the film's trailer, seems like a 14 year old stock trader, manages to pull off his role exceptionally well in what is essentially Doogie Howser in the stock market. His fiance is played superbly by the impressive young actress Mulligan. Josh Brolin makes an understated impression as the villain and continues to prove why he's a superior unsung talent. Appearances by Susan Sarandon, as Jake's overbearing realtor mother, Langella, and even Eli Wallach as an ancient Wall Street warrior, are all a welcome presence.

And of course there's Michael Douglas revisiting his Oscar winning role after 23 years. He doesn't dominate the film as people would expect and in fact, many critics are disappointed that he's not in the film more. But I think it was smart to have his character shadow the film in the scenes where he's absent like some kind of wild card. Is Gekko a changed man or does he still possess an evil agenda? When you find out for sure, the answer isn't an easy one to take.

Money Never Sleeps raises questions left for the audience to ponder even after a seemingly corny happy ending that beneath the warm and fuzzy surface, lies a dark subtext that is challenging. Money never sleeps and greed doesn't stop making the world spin.

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