October 3, 2010
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) **1/2
Directed by Oliver Stone
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)- Dear Oliver Stone, Either calm down w/ the over-directing or make more substantial films. **1/2 of 5
1987's Wall Street, which won Michael Douglas his Best Actor Oscar for playing Gordon Gekko, one of the all-time great movie villains, was such a product of its own time, which was wrought with yuppies drooling over the singular goal of attaining more and more wealth. It was as greasy and slimy as it needed to be. A second Wall Street film in 2010 with the same director and lead actor as the original sounds absolutely perfect considering the causes of this brutal recession we are living in right now. Sadly, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps does not hold a candle to the audacity of its predecessor, and let me make it very clear that it's not because of laziness on the part of director Oliver Stone with his unending reliance on obnoxious cinematography tricks and CGI special effects which don't apologize at all for blatantly drawing attention to themselves. From beginning to end, everyone involved in this thing commits completely to the blueprint of the filmmaker. Therefore, it seems appropriate to blame Stone above all for this earnest exercise in mediocrity.
One also needs not to look beyond the lead performance of Shia LeBeouf who certainly shares some of the blame. He plays Jake Moore, a brilliant young stockbroker in one of the biggest investment firms in New York, whose ambition and mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) have taken him far. Things are going good for Jake, who lives in a ritzy apartment often visited by his beautiful girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan), until the ruthless head of a rival company, played by Josh Brolin, undermines Louis until he's forced to sell his company's stock for next to nothing. The layoffs and public humiliation prove too much for Louis which sets young Jake on a singular mission to exact revenge on Brolin's Bretton James. He seeks the help of Gordon Gekko, recently released from jail and trying hard to regain the wealth and respect he once had, to gather inside information which costs James' company over one hundred million dollars. Impressed with Jake's savvy, Bretton James hires him which leads Jake to promote a new green technology which might allow James to cash in on the next big economic bubble. Of course, Jake comes to regret the trust he puts in Gordon, especially when Gordon uses Jake's naivety to reconnect with his estranged daughter, who just happens to be the same Winnie that Jake wants to marry.
There's a clear split between the older and younger actors concerning the quality of their performances. LeBeouf and Mulligan are both quite weak, while Brolin, Langella and the great Michael Douglas steal every scene they're in. LeBeouf is too self-serious and intense to allow himself to grow comfortable as the straight man asked to anchor a film. He mistakes underacting for understatement, and the whole time, it looks like he's dying to free himself from the self-made inhibitions that hold him back. LeBeouf is not an untalented actor, but his performances truly need the help of more maturity and a great deal more focus on polished acting technique. This role should have been played by someone like Jesse Eisenberg or Ryan Gosling, both of whom know how to share the screen with other actors without ever once coming across boring. Carey Mulligan is a great young actress, but this time around, her quirky, cutesy facial ticks and twitches distract and are often inappropriately utilized. Granted, she's not given much to do on screen, but what she does with her moments often ring just a bit too contrived.
Langella, Brolin and Douglas deliver what's asked of them quite well, though the performances are too often stifled by Stone's visual distractions. In a way, the movie comes across too busy and manic to truly appreciate any single performance. Yet, sadly, the busyness does not make the movie interesting or engaging. Too often, montages of brokers in business suits shouting financial jargon clutters the narrative, and not once does it feel like the audience hasn't seen this sort of "business suspense" in better films like All the President's Men, A Few Good Men and even the original Wall Street. The love story, partially because of the performances of LeBeouf and Mulligan, fails to ignite into anything worth following, and the twist involving Gekko could be seen coming a mile away. Further, the fact that Stone hedges his bets and offers a somewhat redemptive ending for the Gekko character feels like something out of a completely different movie altogether. Maybe Douglas' recent announcement of his own cancer might have had something to do with this awful, inorganic ending, or maybe not. Either way, it's pretty embarrassing.
Wall Street will forever be a useful glimpse into a pretty nasty little piece of recent history. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, much like Stone's better film W., is simply about a pretty nasty little piece of recent history and nothing more. It's almost guaranteed that its usefulness in the future will be naught. In fact, I'd be surprised if people will even still watch and remember this movie ten years from now at all. I know I probably won't.