As the above clip from Reason.tv highlights, anyone expecting director Oliver Stone to pass up the chance to make millions while smacking capitalism around in a Wall Street sequel is an eternal optimist — or has never rented a single Stone film.
The big surprise lurking in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is that the film captures Stone at his collar-grabbing best — for a while.
It’s been ages since Stone made a film of consequence, alternating between weak propaganda fare (South of the Border) to sophomoric political profiles (W.). And the sappy World Trade Center, Stone’s dignified tribute to emergency workers in the 9/11 fallout (the root cause of which was never depicted on screen), garnered more praise than it deserved.
But in Money Never Sleeps, his delayed sequel to his 1987 smash, he makes it easy to forget about his recent missteps. It’s vintage Stone, chock full of meaty performances, slick dialogue, and story arcs one can’t help but follow.
The hard-left director doesn’t bludgeon the audience with polemics — he leaves that to the interviews promoting his
The film is partly a reboot of his own ‘80s feature. This time, Shia LaBeouf plays the handsome, headstrong trader named Jake, standing in for Charlie Sheen. He works under a kindly mentor (Frank Langella) but has his sights on riding an alternate energy company to fame and fortune.
Ah, movie magic.
Jake is simultaneously watching the company go through a critical research step and trying to reconnect his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) with her estranged father. And her pappy is none other than Gordon “Greed … is good” Gekko (Michael Douglas reprising his Oscar winning role) himself. But ol’ Gordon isn’t the man he used to be. Prison showed him the error of his ways, and now he simply wants to invest in a nurturing relationship with his daughter.
Jake’s also busy with a Gekko-style kingpin (Josh Brolin) who could make Jake rich if he can hold his nose long enough and bury his better instincts.
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.