Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

"Greed...(For Lack of a Better Movie) Good"

Entering into the third year of the Great Bank Swindle, it was only natural that someone in Hollywood would try and make hay off of it.  Enter Oliver Stone, with a sequel of sorts to his "Wall Street" film of 1987: "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (a rather loopy title, in my eyes).  Wall Street high-roller Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from prison to find himself alone, short of cash, and unable to get back into the game—the rules, such as they are, have changed, and prison never looks good on the resumé.

Seven years after Gekko is sprung, young Wall Street investment trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf) finds himself in the middle of the banking crisis, his company folding and his mentor (Frank Langella) commits suicide as a result.  The rootless Moore is then determined to avenge the death of both his Father Figure and livelihood by taking on the entities that led to his firm's collapse.  It was only a matter of time before he ran into Gekko, on a promotional tour for his new book, describing his life on top and behind bars.  Their stars are due to collide for another reason; is engaged to Gekko's daughter (Carey Mulligan), estranged from her father for his sociopathic wheeling-dealings and the subsequent overdose death of her brother.

Already it starts to feel icky.  Stone's original was, much like his "Platoon," less about their subjects (Vietnam, insider trading) and more about the writer-director's coming to terms with Daddy issues.  His protagonist in both films (played by Charlie Sheen) had to choose between good and bad fathers in both situations (Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe in the first, and Douglas and Martin Sheen in the second), hovering about his shoulders like angel-demons, prodding him to go one way or the other, making him choose which Father Knows Best.

Everybody has Daddy problems in this one, to the point where that seems to be the only issue concerned.  Oh, there's some touching on of Green Energy and of the Banking conspiracy, but for the most part it is of the characters pin balling between Male Authority Figures, and the Mentor-Protegé thing (right down to Josh Brolin's character's favorite art-piece).  The only thing left is the kinda squeaky relationship between LaBoeuf and Mulligan, with Gecko acting like some Yojimbo playing all sides against each other.  It's a little disappointing to see Douglas' Gekko-monster being soft-pedalled in this manner—like finding out that Darth Vader (another Dark Father figure!) is merely Hayden Christensen in disguise.  Disappointing if one could get a handle on the character at all.  Douglas vacillates between being a tough-as-nails financier with all the answers and vulnerable Fair-Market Father trying to win back his little girl—that transformation gives Douglas and Mulligan a well-played if ultimately hollow scene in which they come to tearful terms.  He has never been better than that scene, and takes chances that recall his father Kirk's fearlessness in hitting for the bleachers.

If only that were true of Oliver Stone.

For the fact of the matter is, despite being one of our more (self-professed)radical film-makers, the once angry young man has made one of the most conventional of movies.  To be fair, he didn't write it, so the personal complications among the characters that one can see coming a mile away are not his fault.  And though he may trick the movie up with visual legerdemain (including a simple use of split-screen that he abandons fairly early on), pervasive songs by David Byrne and Brian Eno (that are banal), and "cuting" it up with several visual and aural "in-jokes," the film couldn't be more "safe," preaching to the choir, and goo-ing the whole thing up in a veneer of soap-scum. 

If one wants to be a truly innovative film-maker, to push the limits of visual story-telling, tell us something we don't already know.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is a low-yield Cable-Watcher. 

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Great writeup, this film has a load of issues and one that bothers me the most is how unlike Stone it is. It's not so much that it's a bad movie - which it is, but it's so terribly unimaginative.