Thursday, 21 October 2010

Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps

I only saw the first Wall Street film three days ago. That means I'm new to this whole 'Greed is Good' thing. Until Monday the name Gordon Gecko meant very little to me. I knew he was a character played by Michael Douglas wearing large braces and smoking an even larger cigar, but that was where my knowledge of Oliver Stone's shady trader began and ended.

But now I feel I know Gordon a lot more. That is thanks largely to Stone's two intriguing movies in which most people seem to get fat by shouting about money that doesn't exist, before losing it all in some self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Some get it back again, some end up in front of underground trains. It's the luck of the draw from what I can gather.

Wall Street - Money Never sleeps is mostly set 21 years after Gecko was banged up for insider trading and something called 'Security Fraud' in the denoument of the 1987 original. After which time he has been doing an awful lot of thinking, and writing. While giving a lecture to some wannabe financial players (mostly to promote his own book) he meets one named Jake Moore, his soon-to-be son-in-law it turns out. If that isn't too many hyphens for you.

Moore is played by Shia Leboeuf, last seen rolling around with the octogenaeric Harrison Ford in the needless fourth installment of the Indiana Jones story. Yet here he seems much more comfortable, even if his character tends to lack a bit of focus. Does he want to engage with Gecko to help re-unite him with his estranged daughter, or does he really want to pick up a few tips on how to become absurdly rich overnight? Well, both actually.

Mixed in with all of this is a revenge plot featuring Josh Brolin's Bretton James, mega-rich megalomaniac and big-shit of the monumentally capitalist Churchill Schwarz bank. James will stomp over anyone to make more money and win what Gecko later calls 'the game'. James is something of a re-incarnation of Gecko's character from the first installment. I'd question whether the film needs another Gecko, since it already has Gecko. Yet my main bug-bear with Brolin's greed is that it is at one point illustrated by a motorcycling scene which, though important in one obvious way, is mostly pointless posturing.

It takes an hour for the film to establish Jake's dilemma. One the one hand he knows that his fiancee Winnie (played by the currently ubiquitous Carey Mulligan) will flip her proverbial lid if she finds out that he has been in cahoots with her father. She still blames him for the overdose which killed her brother Rudi. On the other he has this nagging feeling that won't go away that he could learn so much from Gecko. Did I say learn? I meant earn. Either way his idyllic relationship is heading for rockier times.

And so a more human tale emerges than anything seen in the first film. Douglas goes about the business of reclaiming his daughter's love, and it seems that the game and the money no longer matter. Yet leopards are notoriously reluctant to change their spots, so the question is whether Gecko will be lured in again by the rampant, greedy gambler that lies within.

There's no mileage in giving away the ending, except to say that I found it a little disappointing. To my mind Stone goes past the point of no return plot-wise, before slamming on the brakes regardless.

As a character study and morality tale this is every bit as good as it's predecessor. Leboeuf bares favourable comparison with Charlie Sheen's young gun Buddy Fox from the original, while Mulligan and Brolin are very believable and watchable as Winnie and Bretton respectively. Yet it's Douglas who steals the show as expected. Gordon Gecko is back.

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