fri 12/07/2024

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps | reviews, news & interviews

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Gekko is back to take on the sub-prime kleptocrats

Michael Douglas molts a layer of skin as Gordon Gekko, with Shia Leboeuf

The long-delayed sequel has earned no more than a small, insignificant footnote in movie history. Psycho II, Gregory’s Two Girls and Texasville, to name only three disparate examples, were all superfluous post-scriptums to much venerated, much earlier films. There is at least a pretext for another trip to Wall Street. Since Gordon Gekko last blew the fumes of his fat Havana in your face, money has learnt to talk louder than ever.

But there’s another reason why, 22 years on, Oliver Stone’s sequel to his portrait of Reaganomics in action counts as much less of a despoliation: the original was hardly an acknowledged masterpiece in the first place.

Nonetheless, here once more is Michael Douglas, his now wattled neck protruding from an open shirt in ever-closer visual consonance with the reptile evoked in that surname. But something is different. His hair's no longer slicked back, and it seems that people suddenly have a sneaking regard for him. “I once said that greed is good,” he tells a hall teeming with respectful young preppies as he plugs his book. “Now it seems it’s legal.” How they titter and clap.

A lovely sight gag implies that this time round we won’t be taking Gekko too seriously. When he emerges from the penitentiary in 2001 he is reunited with his prototype brick-shaped mobile: this guy’s from the age of innocence, of junk bonds, asset stripping and, as he sees it, the victimless peccadillo of the insider trade. “Talk about an evil empire,” he says of the sub-prime kleptocrats that now rule Wall Street and have pumped the greenback full of steroids. “I’m small-time compared to these crooks.” Indeed, the film forgets about him altogether for well over half an hour as we proceed to 2008, where the early hints of dire implosion are in the air.

A fictionalised version of Lehmans is sinking into the primordial soup. Its old-school scion Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) does the decent thing and tosses himself under a train, but not before handing over a very respectable million-dollar bonus to his protégé Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). At least in this world, Jake counts as one of the squeaky-clean guys – he finances the green-energy sector and values outdated commodities such as personal loyalty. He also happens to be stepping out with Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who works for a campaigning news website with impeccably liberal credentials.

Gekko, nowadays travelling to and from his sterile high-rise rental by subway, re-enters the narrative on a mission to seek reconciliation with Winnie. “At my age I’ll take anything I can get,” the old snake says. Aw. Stone cues in the musical gloop (David Byrne and Brian Eno supply the vanilla soundtrack). But his daughter nurses painful memories of her brother’s death from drug addiction so it all goes predictably wrong until Gekko manages to sweet-talk her at a charity function. Mulligan’s pouchy little face crumples and spills ever so touching tears and even her dad’s scaly old peepers seem to glisten around the edges. A bit like the game-changing moment when Schwarzenegger switches to the side of the angels in Terminator 2, the world as movie-goers know herewith tilts on its axis.

Shia Leboeuf in Wall Street: Money Never SleepsGekko's heartening application to join the human race is played out against a plot to bring down Wall Street’s hottest hotshot (Josh Brolin, mostly pectoral and jawline). This caveman in pinstripes happens conveniently to be the nemesis of both Gekko and Zabel, which means that everyone is after his cold blood. Let's spare you the minutiae of how they go after him here. In fact Stone does all he can to spare you himself. Every time there’s a key bit of dialogue involving the manoeuvring of complex financial instruments, he splits the screen into whizzy sliding sections, or clutters it with computerised distractions, and hurriedly turns up the volume. At one point he even throws Douglas and LaBeouf into a speeding New York cab as they plan a transaction. The rest of us don’t trust bankers. Stone doesn’t trust a script about bankers. Hence the ADHD storytelling.

Or he refuses to show stuff at all. More than once Stone deploys the laziest narrative device in the handbook, as Gekko comes up with plot-driving info by making an off-screen call to a contact in Switzerland. (This film about international finance, while nominally visiting Zurich, can in fact afford no more than one establishing shot of trams in snow.)

The monster Stone created back in the day eventually remembers where he hid his phallic cigar and Brylcreem

 And when the camera does sit still, what is there to look at? LaBeouf (pictured above), all green energy himself, is little more than a painted number. Even Susan Sarandon as his over-borrowing mother is mainly playing an illustration. It’s fun to watch a shrivelled Eli Wallach, 95 this December, have a high old time as an ancient Wall Street don (a much more successful cameo than Charlie Sheen, briefly wheeled on from the original movie like a jowly tailor's dummy). But after Langella’s all too brief turn, it becomes increasingly clear that Mulligan's lonely task is to bring humanity to a film which prefers to trade in other markets. Her tears – she cries a pretty river of them – aren’t enough to put a moral gloss on a narrative that fetishises the power struggle and reduces the credit crunch to a hectic backdrop against which Godzilla and Kong tough it out on the Monopoly board.

As its miserably trite triangulated ending proves, the reality is that Stone has no idea what to do with Gekko. Yes, the monster Stone created back in the day eventually remembers where he hid his phallic cigar and Brylcreem. So Eighties nostalgists get their money shot. But you sense that, like a major movie star, he is there only to help float the picture. Money never sleeps. Audiences have that option.

Watch the trailer for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

A bit like Schwarzenegger switching to the side of the angels in Terminator 2, the world as movie-goers know it herewith tilts on its axis

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