On paper, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps feels like Stone’s attempt at recapturing a culturally relevant movie mantle. The 2008 financial collapse opened the doors for his new Street, allowing him to resuscitate a golden oldie. But if he’s going through the motions, his A-list crew didn’t get the memo.
LaBeouf gets plenty of heat from movie fans for being too young and too lucky with roles in the last Indiana Jones feature and the Transformers films. Here, he channels the youthful arrogance Sheen once displayed but adds a tenderness the Two and a Half Man actor couldn’t muster. LaBeouf goes toe to toe with Brolin at one point, a standoff the young actor seemed destined to lose. He holds his ground — a career affirming moment, perhaps.
Mulligan’s role isn’t rich enough to matter, but she’s still a compelling screen presence. She’s pure emotion, her pixie haircut framing a face tailor-made for bringing light to shadowy roles.
And Brolin glistens with evil here, a fine foil for young Jake and proof that the W. star remains one of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters.
Money Never Sleeps coughs up some cloying dialogue in the opening sequences, almost as if Stone is parodying his past work. And much of the conversations involve insider trading mumbo-jumbo that will leave audiences a tad woozy. But it soon settles into a respectable groove, as does Jake‘s story. Suddenly, it’s retro Stone, and we can table preconceptions we had about tackling a very belated sequel.
It’s fascinating to watch a humbled Gekko desperate to reconnect with his daughter, his vaunted power all but unplugged. He still lives large, but he can’t even get a collegial nod from Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter during a restaurant sequence. Douglas keenly reinvents Gekko, in one speech deconstructing the system he gamed in the first film to thunderous, and rather silly, applause. It’s one of a handful of times the film screeches to a halt to make a political statement, though the moment doesn’t derail the narrative.
That comes later.
The film gathers an emotional momentum that’s dizzying to behold and chock full of Stone’s signature visual excess. The director can’t corral it into a satisfying finale. The filmmaker’s ideology jumps to the fore in the waning minutes, reminding us of the evil nature of greed and deifying a liberal blogger as the David who might just slay Goliath. The economic lessons are in bold type face, though conspiracy theorists might be disappointed that Stone hasn’t concocted a bogeyman out of whole cloth here.
But Stone’s politics don’t crush the film — the farcical story machinations do the honors. Watching the third act makes the very idea of a Wall Street sequel suddenly unnecessary. Stone turns Gekko into something he should never be, a twist so deflating it’s shocking any veteran director wouldn’t stop it cold in its tracks.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps reminds us of greed’s siren call, but it’s equally prescient about fading directors who refuse to let their past works live on in our memories.