Review: Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps (2010)

 

WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Writer/director Oliver Stone returns to form with this study of greed and the effects it can have on people’s’ lives.

After serving an eight year prison sentence for fraud and insider dealing, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released with just the clothes on his back and a $1000 dollar cheque to start his new life with. Seven years later, he’s a best-selling author warning Wall Street about the dangers of greed and predicting the 2010 economic collapse that consumed the world.

Into his life comes Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), the fiance of his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and a hot-shot trader who has modelled himself after Gekko, much to Winnie’s dismay as she blames Gordon for the deaths of her mother and brother Rudy and wants nothing to do with her father anymore.

Initially Jake is intrigued by the apparent about-face Gekko has done with regard to Wall Street. Where once he said that greed is good, he’s now warning that it’s been taken too far and that the current generation of traders are too short-sighted, focusing on immediate profits rather than long-term investing. This all comes to a head for Moore when the investment bank he works at – headed by his mentor and dearest friend Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) – suffers a complete collapse on the markets, engineered by Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who then buys the bank for a pittance which drives Zabel to suicide.

Enraged by this, Moore seeks out Gekko to help plot his revenge and offers to engineer a reconciliation with his daughter in exchange. During the movie Gekko goes out of his way to prove that he’s changed, that prison has given him a new perspective on life and that now he realises what’s truly important. Of course, once we find out that he’d stashed $100 million in a Swiss bank account for Winnie and that she broke her promise to finance his trading come back, it’s not too much of a surprise when he cons her into signing the money over to him and then flees to the London Stock Exchange to start over.

The story focuses on the relationships between Moore and the Gekko’s as Jake tries to balance his need to avenge his mentor’s death with his passion for a renewable energy project he’s trying to get funding for and his relationship with Winnie.

Stone’s anger at the cavalier attitude of Wall Street’s traders shines through at every stage of the movie. From Gekko teaching Moore about the cycle of boom and bust to Winnie’s small independent e-news letter trying to educate the American public about the single greatest transfer of wealth – nearly a trillion dollars from main street (the public coffers) to Wall Street – in Human history, which took place when the U.S. banks were bailed out by the Treasury. Stone’s anger also touches on the boom and bust cycle of modern economics, making the case that we’ve all become so obsessed with getting ahead that we’re no longer focusing on the long-term health of our economies, such as when Bretton James re-routes the money supposedly going into the renewable energy project into an oil exploration deal. He likens this to a combination of greed inspired madness to outright stupidity to idiotic greed. As Gekko himself says in the movie, “These guys make me look like an amateur.”

Stone also suggests that the collapse was foreseen by Wall Street but that they did nothing because it would have affected their profits margins and because they knew the government would have to step in if anything went wrong, “privatize the gains, socialize the loses.”

The acting is first-rate, with both LaBeouf and Mulligan shining in their roles. I was a bit surprised at the casting of LaBeouf but I must admit he does an excellent job and this could be his first step in shaking off the image of him as a teen actor. I’m really looking forward to seeing more dramatic work from him in the future. Michael Douglas is, of course, superb as is Josh Brolin and both are easily deserving of the accolades they’ve been getting for their performances.

If you’re looking for an explanation of why we’re all going to be in debt for the next decade or if you’re interested in seeing a closure of the Gekko story, then this movie is definitely for you.

I only hope that this time people realise that the Gekko story is a condemnation of that attitude and lifestyle. In the 1980’s, people regarded the character as a hero worthy of emulation which is the exact opposite of what Stone intended.

Maybe this time they’ll get it.

 

 

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