Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a solid money melodrama very much in the mold of the original, but with an irony and maturity properly advanced with Stone's age and experience as one of our great American filmmakers.
I didn't rewatch the original Wall Street in preparation for this review. It's among my many favorite movies, but it's not my favorite Oliver Stone film in particular. I think of it as an entertaining, voyeuristic and iconic picture about high finance in the eighties, with great work from Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko.
It's so famous by now that it's a bit more than a movie. Once I watched it in high school government class, though that wasn't the first time I'd seen it. Wall Street also feels leftist and anti-corporatist, which it is, quite directly, maybe even a bit clumsily. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is as well, but feels more intelligent and well-earned dramatically than the original, though I don't like it quite as much. Also missing is a bit of the pure outrage and clarity of the original. But I would argue that this mostly helps the sequel.
The trailer (and the casting, frankly) gave me one idea about what Money Never Sleeps might be. Basically, it was that it could be a very good film, or it could be a lousy retread like Indiana Jones and the Whatever of Whatever. Then the film went in completely different directions from what I felt led to expect, really surprising and delighting at nearly every turn.
I can say with confidence that this is the best performance I've seen from Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, a trader with a modest but venerable firm run by Louis Zabel (Frank Langella, great), seemingly based on Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns. Jake's a bit of a wonder boy there, and Zabel a truly dear figure to him.
Jake also has a fiancée, Winnie (Carey Mulligan, excellent), who happens to be the estranged daughter of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, smooth, convincing), out of jail and touring with a book and inside opinions on finance. Jake, always sort of wondering how Winnie can love him and hate her father with the similarity between their high-flying Wall Street careers, can't resist making contact with Gekko, out of overwhelming personal and professional curiosity. Of course, he gets in a little over his head.
Now, I'm going to resist any spoilers here. As I said, I found the movie to be almost nothing like previews had led me to suspect, so I'm not going to say one more thing about the plot here. Josh Brolin is strong as Bretton James, a sort of unreformed Gekko-like rival/mentor of Jake's. Eli Wallach has a memorable if fairly inconsequential cameo, and there's another cameo from the previous film, also mostly inconsequential but quite welcome.
Brian Eno's and David Byrne's songs add a retro eighties feel while at the same time, like the progression from Wall Street to Money Never Sleeps, wisdom and experience have added some welcome mellowness and maturity. They're a perfect fit for the film.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps keeps secrets and leaves some things understated, some things unsaid, but none unconsidered. It's smarter about money than Wall Street, and overall the characters feel more organic. It makes a lot of sense, maybe more sense than the original, though I can't say it surpasses the original in toto. I wouldn't have minded a few more trims. But the return of Gekko in another great performance from Michael Douglas is more than worth the price of admission. And the movie really works.
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