“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” opened and it is, indeed, a fitting sequel to the 1987 film. Oliver Stone’s revisiting of greed and corruption on “Wall Street” comes to us at a time when we have just dodged the bullet of a second Great Depression (or have we?)
The film opens with a scene of Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas’) release from what is billed as Otis Federal Prison (actually Sing Sing) in 2001, after 8 years behind bars for insider trading and other financial misdeeds while working on Wall Street. When Gordon’s personal belongings are returned to him, the huge cell phone is the most anachronistic object. It is huge, by today’s standards. He walks outside to find no one waiting for him. One imagines the scene to be analogous to what would occur if Bernie Madoff were ever to be released from prison.
The backstory involves Gekko’s purported desire to reconcile with his daughter, Winnie (Carrie Mulligan). He says several times, “Winnie’s all I got left.” Unfortunately, Winnie has not talked to Gordon in several years, apparently the result of her feeling that, had Gordon been there, her brother Rudy would not have died of a drug overdose.
These scenes must have cut very close to the bone for the veteran actor. His brother Eric died of a drug and alcohol overdose on July 6, 2004 at age 46. Couple that with the recent incarceration of Michael Douglas’ only son Cameron for trafficking in meth and you have a man who can relate to the scenes he plays opposite Academy Award nominee Carrie Mulligan as his daughter Winnie
With the recent announcement (Aug. 16, 2010) that Michael Douglas has Stage 4 throat cancer many of the movie’s lines take on added significance, such as this one: “Time is the priority, not money.
Shia LaBoeuf as Jake Moore is in love with Gordon’s (Michael Douglas’) daughter Winnie and has proposed marriage to her. She has accepted. He is a trader on Wall Street and she runs a left-leaning liberal blog called “The Frozen Truth.” To a veteran movie-goer like myself, I consider it noteworthy that, when Jake (LaBoeuf) wants to break news to the world, rather than going to the “New York Times” like Robert Redford did in “Three Days of the Condor” or to the “Washington Post” in “All the President’s Men,” he goes to his girlfriend Carrie and lets her break the story on her blog. (Maybe there’s hope for my www.WeeklyWilson.com blog, after all!).
The best thing about this film is the script, written by Allan Loeb and Steven Schiff, based on the original characters from the 1987 film created by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser. With the excellent lines that have been scripted for them, all the actors give tour de force performances. All are genuinely convincing right down the line, starting with Douglas, LaBoeuf and Mulligan and moving on to Josh Brolin as bad guy trader Bretton James, veteran character actor Eli Wallach as “Jules”, Frank Langella as Jake Moore’s elderly mentor, and too many other veteran actors and actresses to mention each by name (Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon plays a small part as Jake’s mother and Sylvia Miles has an even smaller part as a real estate agent.
Here are a few of the lines from the film that will give you its flavor:
Frank Langella, as Lou, the old trader at the fictional firm Keller Zabel, which seems to have been modeled on: “It’s no fun any more. It’s just a bunch of machines telling us what to do.”
On September 15, 2008, IRL (in real life), Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy following the housing and credit crash on Wall Street. It was the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, with Lehman Brothers holding more than $600 billion in assets. The U.S. government turned a deaf ear to pleas for help from Lehman Brothers to help it remain afloat. Later, however, the government decided that AIG was “too big to fail’ and bailed out that financial institution (and several others), using U.S. taxpayers’ money. In this fictional account of recent history, Lehman Brothers is represented by the fictional firm of Keller Zabel, whose shares plummet from $79 to an offer of $2 made to old hand Lou (Frank Langella), a low blow, which, in filmdom, is engineered by bad guy Josh Brolin portraying trader Bretton James. There are many pseudonyms for real Wall Street firms in the film. There is the fictitious Churchill Schwarz (Goldman Sachs?) and the nefarious Locust Fund, as well as Hydra Offshore Oil, which is LaBoeuf’s pet project to turn water into a substitute for oil.
At one point in the movie, Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf) asks Michael Douglas’ character of Gordon Gekko, “Are we going under?” Douglas responds, “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jacob says, “What’s the right question?” And Gordon responds, “Who isn’t?”
Telling old hand Lou (Frank Langella) that “Your valuations are no longer believable” drives him to commit suicide, and much of the rest of the film is about Jake’s desire to exact revenge for his mentor’s death.
The scene in the college auditorium where Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is lecturing has been in heavy rotation on televison ads for the film, and it is a good scene. Among other things Gordon says (courtesy of scriptwriters Loeb and Schiff), is: “You’re the NINJA generation: No income. No job. No assets.” Gordon also repeats his mantra that “Greed is good” and says, “Now, it seems, it’s legal.” He says that “Only 75 people in the world know what they are talking about” regarding Wall Street traders and says, “Greed got greedier…The beauty of the deal; no one is responsible because everybody’s drinking the same Kool Ade.” He also says, “The mother of all evil is speculation” as he comments on “borrowing to the hilt.” Listening to the cancer-stricken Douglas (Stage 4 throat cancer) call the Wall Street situation “systemic, global…it’s a cancer” hits home. Phrases like, “He’s (Lou) one of the toughest guys who ever wore shoes” also resonate, as Shia LaBoeuf relates how Lou (Frank Langella) saw to it that he got a scholarship to Fordham.
Another great soliloquy: “Money’s a bitch that never sleeps, and if you don[t keep one eye on her, you may end up with it gone forever.” Susan Sarandon is run in as a nurse-turned-realtor who has been making money flipping houses and is constantly turning to her stockbroker son to bail her out as the market crashes. At one point, Shia says to his mother, “What’d you think: it was just going to shoot up in perpetuity?” as he writes out checks to his mother for $200,000 first and, later for $30,000 he barely has, at that point. When Shia LaBoeuf reveals that Bretton James has just offered him a job with his firm, Douglas says, “You just rocketed to the center of the Universe.” A later stunt by Jake to get even with Bretton which involves spreading rumors that are not necessarily true leads Douglas to warn LaBoeuf that, “You induced others to trade on information you knew to be false,” warning him that this, too, is a crime punishable by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission).
There are several metaphors for the fragile yet brutal nature of Wall Street trading, including a framed tulip photograph and a painting that is supposedly by Goya. As a seasoned movie-goer you know that, sooner or later, one character or the other will smash either the framed tulip picture or the Goya.
I enjoyed the line that Douglas has when Jake Moore comes to him and tells him that Bretton James “screwed me.” Douglas replies, “Shocker.” Not too heartening is Douglas’ line, “They (greedy traders) never die. They just come back in different forms.” Here’s another good one from Gordon Gekko (Douglas): “When choosing between 2 evils, I always like to try the one that I haven’t tried before.”
I genuinely liked this movie (although it didn’t hold my interest nearly as well as “The Town” that is out now), but there were 2 things that I didn’t like that much. One was the music, with original music by Craig Armstrong and Bud Carr as the Executive Music Producer. (The music in “Up in the Air” with Rick Clark supervising was infinitely more appropriate). At the end, the song playing over the credits is reggae-influenced, which seemed somehow out of synch with the world of Wall Street. The other thing that disappointed me was one of two reconciliations that takes place at film’s end. I don’t want to ruin the film for those who have not yet seen it, so I’ll just say that one seemed appropriate and consistent with the character portrayed and one seemed contrived.
A recent line from George Clooney’s “The American,” scrawled on my notepad, seemed to fit this movie, too. “You are Americans. You think you can escape history. You live for the present.” Too true.