Monday, September 27, 2010

Love: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

I’m no great fan of Oliver Stone.  While I wouldn’t downgrade him to the “hack” level I place M. Night Shyamalan on, it’s pretty safe to say that Stone is a perpetually flawed filmmaker so hellbent on making socially relevant films that he too oft forgets to also attempt to make them decent pieces of entertainment.   Many of Stone's films fall in to one of two categories; they're either bland, lifeless, overly political pieces of work, or frenetic, unfocused, overly political wax works.  That said, there are only one or two Oliver Stone films I can say I've enjoyed.  At the top of the list is the original Wall Street, which, in spite of the lovefests surrounding Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July I think is perhaps Stone’s best effort.   The 1987 film managed to be timely as well as original.  Stone couldn't rest on his historical laurels, he had to build up the story to construct its characters, and the resulting portrait of corruption and money mongering sentiments paid off.  We remember Wall Street for its depiction of an era, the oft ironically confused quotation of its mantras, and the way it worked like bad prophecy on the decades since.   When I first heard that Stone was working on a sequel to the film, the then titled Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (someone, wisely, has since dropped the tacky '2'),  I thought it was completely absurd.   It seemed like an especially low point in the Hollywood recycling machine; churning up another old drama with another, now significantly less edgy, aging star.  It didn't work with Basic Instinct 2, and I'd hate to see a sudden repeat for Fatal Attraction, so why dig up Wall Street from its palce in the cultural consciousness and redefine it to forever be associated with Shia LaBeouf?  


Well, 10 minutes into Money Never Sleeps, I understood why Stone felt the nagging need to resurrect Gordon Gekko.   The film is set in 2008, in the midst of market crisis and at the panic point of our economic recession.  If Stone, who is perhaps easily the most politically obsessed director in Hollywood short of Michael Moore, wanted to make a film about the present state of the American economy he had two options: try to make a film set on Wall Street that didn’t conjure up echoes of a movie already in his oeuvre; or, just make a sequel.  Duh.
There's a lot that's actually working in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. We find Gordon Gekko semi-transformed. He's still the ruthless, manipulative smooth talker he was in the first film, but now his game has been altered for a new era. His approach is different. Fresh from prison, he questions the system that made him and that betrayed him, but still, only for his profit. He speaks to business students, puts in his two cents on television roundtables, and is slimily seductive as a symbol of greed’s power even when not onscreen. Douglas does that thing that is unique to him; the steely approachability that makes him creepily unnerving even when he’s disguised as your humble, rapidly aging patriarch. You have to like him. You have to like him even though you can’t trust him. Young market trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) makes the mistake of liking Gekko too much. After his mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is crushed by the economic downfall and boardroom humiliation, Jake decides now is the time to step up and seek revenge on the terribly sleazy, terribly wealthy Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Against the wishes of his fiancé Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), Jake seeks the advice of her father, and quickly falls lock step into place at his side (though he doesn’t seem to realize it).


What follows is an entertaining enough popcorn melodrama. Douglas, though he won’t win any Oscars this time around, returns to the role with vigor. Carey Mulligan, too, manages to make her moral confusion as people’s champion and conflicted daughter easily apparent. Even LaBeouf, though it pains me to admit it, turns down his smart mouthed shtick long enough to seem, well, adult. He’s wide-eyed. Young, blinded, and a little too naïve even as he steps up to play a dangerous game with the big dogs of the global economy. There are enough ups, downs and intrigues to make Money Never Sleeps worth the price of admission. It fills its little gaps with shiny New York photography and a soundtrack appropriately comprised of songs collaborated on by David Byrne and Brian Eno. It doesn’t much try to compete with the tone of the original, which is perhaps to its advantage. Yet, while I liked the film far more than anticipated, it certainly plays host to some of those same old Oliver Stone overambitious flaws. In many ways, it feels as though it was actually designed as a separate film that was revised to include a Gordon Gekko subplot.
There's something weird going on with Gordon Gekko.  The plot seems heavily interested in re-designing him with a heart and mellowing him in his later years.  This is the problem with Money Never Sleeps: it never throws itself balls to the wall to make the scathing commentary on the greed is good message it preaches against.  Its original villain becomes a sort of antihero.  Its hero is less about blowing whistles and more about winning back the love of his life, bringing people together.  There's no tremendous wake up call.  No roiling anger.  Just some heavy moralizing and a strange attempt at the humanization of the very same man who has become the poster child for a couple generations of savage corporate folk.  Stone wants us to know that greed is not good, but really, he never gets around to actually indicting, finger pointing, and calling out the reckless monetary decisions that got everyone into this mess in the first place.  Instead, we get the personal drama and the romantic inclinations of Jake Moore to act like the white knight of Wall Street and thus attract the fresh faced, PG-13 crowd to the multiplex.   We get a kinder, gentler, monster.  A monster whom the audience may forgive, though he equates love with money.  We also get a really poor 'bubble' trope that runs through the film (which is, let me tell you, not working at all) in a way that's almost cloying, but that's another issue entirely.   

No, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is not a perfect film.  It could be bigger.  It could be better. It could be slightly less confusing in its business dealings and a little lighter on the moral imperative.  For what it is though, a sequel, a big blockbuster, it works.  It's just a little smarter than your average popcorn flick; and somehow, this is all it really needs to be.

2 comments:

  1. Hello,
    Nice post i like it
    World famous Hollywood, California is one of the best known cities in the world, however it not a city, it's mayor is honorary, it has no city council or other city officers. It is part of the city of Los Angeles and as such is governed by the Los Angeles city council and mayor and it's security is maintained by the Los Angeles Police Department.

    larry

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brilliant description.We're left with a solid if predictable drama and a whole lot of very sharp suits and New York loft apartments to envy.

    devil

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...