Much has changed in the world of finance since Oliver Stone first explored its grubby innards in 1987’s Wall Street a film that netted Michael Douglas a Best Actor Oscar for his iconic portrayal of scheming corporate raider Gordon Gekko. Technological advances regulatory changes a terrorist attack a global economic meltdown and the emergence of China as a dominant player have combined to transform the securities industry in the two-plus decades since Gekko paraphrasing Ivan Boesky first captured its more sinister aspects in those famous words “Greed is good.”
What hasn’t changed is Stone who remains every bit as hubristic and heavy-handed as ever. With his sprawling spotty follow-up Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps he has once again taken it upon himself to put forth the definitive portrait of the culture of money and the film suffers badly for it. Set in 2008 in those halcyon days just prior to the subprime mortgage crisis and its subsequent leveling of financial landscape the film is told through the wide eyes of young Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) the 21st-century heir to Bud Fox’s mantle. (Charlie Sheen who portrayed Fox in the first film resurfaces in a fun but ultimately pointless cameo in the sequel.)
Jake we are told is a successful proprietary trader but his countenance more closely resembles that of a venture capitalist. (The risky practices and alleged conflicts of interests of prop traders are widely believed to be among the causes of the financial collapse; the Obama administration has recently proposed their ban.) Though he’s as profit-driven as any other young Wall Street turk he also boasts something of an idealistic streak and hopes to use his position at the prestigious investment banking firm of Keller Zabel to further the cause of a cutting-edge green energy startup. No doubt it’s this noble trait that appeals to his girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan) a progressive pixie who runs a muckraking leftist blog and who also happens to be Gekko’s estranged daughter.
Jake’s bright future takes a dark turn when rumors of over-exposure to “toxic assets” swallow up first his company Keller Zabel and then its founder Lou (Frank Langella) who opts to retire beneath a speeding subway train after the Federal Reserve denies his request for an emergency bailout. Devastated by the suicide of his boss and mentor Jake vows to exact revenge upon the slithery brute he believes to be the source of the poisonous rumors: Bretton James (Josh Brolin) a prominent partner at Churchill Schwartz (read: Goldman Sachs) Keller’s chief rival.
And where exactly does Gordon Gekko figure in all of this? After the opening sequence during which he emerges from a lengthy prison stay to find no one waiting to greet him Gekko doesn’t re-enter the story until about the 30th minute and lurks mainly on its periphery for much of his screen time. In the years since his incarceration for the various misdeeds chronicled in the first film he’s rebranded himself as a sort of populist crusader against speculator avarice hawking a book about the ills of the financial system entitled Is Greed Good? (“You’re all pretty much fucked ” he instructs a lecture audience.) Gekko’s got a grudge of his own against Bretton his one-time protege turned state’s witness in his securities fraud conviction and he agrees to supply Jake with crucial insider info in exchange for help in brokering a reconciliation with his daughter Winnie.
All of this is set against a backdrop of the collapses and bailouts of the 2008 financial tumult — a topic that could easily warrant its own film. (Indeed HBO is currently readying its adaptation of Aaron Ross Sorkin’s book about the crisis.) His ambition outstripping his ability Stone labors awkwardly to integrate the macro of the crisis with its many backroom deals and soap-opera intrigues and the micro of Jake’s increasingly complex relationship with Gekko. Mulligan’s character meant to serve as the film’s emotional anchor as well as its conscience is ultimately little more than a distraction diverting us from the story’s more compelling elements. The last third of the film which focuses on Gekko’s reemergence as a Wall Street player feels tacked-on as if driven by data from test audiences dissatisfied with his relatively minor presence in the early goings.
There are moments in Money Never Sleeps where Stone successfully invokes the heady verve of the 1987 film but for a story dealing with such titillating subject matter its pace too often drags to a near-halt as it wallows excessively in Gekko family melodrama. (The performances it should be noted are all terrific though LaBeouf is an exceedingly tough sell as a would-be BSD.) And a topic as sexy as money should never ever be boring.
With the Oscars fading into memory, it's time to look forward to the industry's next big glitzy affair: the Cannes Film Festival, where, Wiretap is hearing, a band of merry men may be making their way up the red carpet on opening night.
According to information we've received, Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is tipped to open the festival. Further, it's also been whispered that French passport holder Oliver Stone will screen his Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps out of competition.
The US release date for Robin Hood is May 14, so, given that the festival opens on May 12, the timing would make sense.
Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux, however, told Wiretap, "No decision has been made because we still have films to see for the opening night slot."
Universal Pictures International France marketing director Stephane Rethore had essentially the same thing to say, "nothing is confirmed," he told Wiretap.
Robin Hood stars Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Matthew Macfadyen, Mark Strong, Danny Huston and William Hurt among others in a Brian Helgeland action/adventure spin on the classic tale.
As for Wall Street, the US release date is currently (as per IMDB) set for April 23 while the French release date is May 5, a week before the festival opens. Word is over here that the Fox film is thus likely to screen rather than have an official selection premiere at the festival.
Stone's sequel to the 1987 iconic treatise on greed again stars Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. The corporate raider, just released from prison, hooks up with a young trader (Shia LaBeouf) for a new round of high-stakes exploits. Also in the cast are Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella and Charlie Sheen reprising his role from the original as Bud Fox.
Michael Douglas will reprise his Academy Award-winning role as ruthless financial player Gordon Gekko in the new picture, which is tentatively titled Money Never Sleeps.
Transformers star Shia LaBeouf is set to play an ambitious trader who is engaged to Gekko's daughter and Charlie Sheen is rumoured to be in talks to reprise his role as Bud Fox, alongside his father Martin, who played his on-screen dad in the 1987 original.
And now Langella, 71, has joined the Oliver Stone production as a mentor to LaBeouf's character, according to Variety.com.
Josh Brolin is also in talks to join the cast, playing the part turned down by Javier Bardem.
Filming on the new movie is set to begin later this year (09).