Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

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2 thoughts on “Spending ev’ry dime

  1. I think I came out of this film with a slightly less negative feeling than you did. Maybe the less-than-stellar notices it had been receiving beforehand lowered my expectations sufficiently, but I left the cinema feeling that while it was not one of his best works, even a flawed Oliver Stone film is better than a lot of what lines the arteries of our multiplexes any given weekend.

    Where Wall Street 2 suffers, particularly in comparison to the original, is that there really are two separate films unspooling here, and they don’t sit together all that well.

    First up is the thinly fictionalised tale of the collapse of first one, and then ultimately a whole string of investment banks, and the arrogance, opportunism, and hubris of the men controlling and abjectly failing to regulate them. This is where the film is at its strongest – Stone is on familiar territory (his Dad was a stock-broker), gives us some characters to like (Langella’s ill-fated “old school” investment bank chief in particular) and to dislike (Brolin and Eli Wallach’s amoral pragmatist), and he manages to keep the story moving while depicting potentially boring economic machinations. It dominates most of the first act – after leaving prison, we barely see Gekko again for the next twenty minutes – and if it had been allowed to occupy the whole film, it could have potentially been a fascinating story well told.

    But unfortunately, there is a second, muddied storyline competing for screentime: the love triangle between Gekko, his daughter, and Shia LeBeouf. Stone’s films are often about absent fathers, and Wall Street 2 is no exception. Shia and Gekko Jr are effectively sans-Dad: alcoholism and prison respectively denying each of them their paternal approval. This is the same void that motivates Budd Fox before them (and Alexander and Nixon and Jim Morrison and most of all Charlie Sheen’s wide-eyed GI in Platoon), and it leads Shia to seek to impress and then dethrone nearly every investment banker in the film.

    His relationship with Ms Gekko is the one aspect which is most divergent from the original film: that was a tale of two men (Douglas and Sheen Snr) fighting over the soul of Sheen Jr. It was a classic tale with a mythic simplicity that helped keep Wall Street a very tight and focussed script.

    In the sequel we get Ms Gekko whose motivations for any point of the film are never really explained in any sort of believable way. She used to like Dad, but now because Dad went to prison and little brother got into drugs and subsequently overdosed she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. The problem is that once Gekko gets to talk with her and put his side of the argument, it’s hard not to see it his way. Even harder to stomach is her utter passivity: boyfriend discovers she has $100M in a Swiss bank account and asks if he can have it to put into his pet project, she just says “sure” and signs it over to him. Her relationships with both her father and her boyfriend are so underwritten that every time she enters the story it’s hard to care at all whether either survives. Unfortunately the film puts this triangle at the centre of its resolution: the final scene revolves around the question of whether she will allow either man into her life, but this is a character who has only had ten minutes of screen time over the previous two hours. The choices she makes – spectacularly unmotivated as they are – and our lack of investment in her as a character significantly undermine the film’s ending.

    Whereas Wall Street was a pure morality tale with a Good Man, a Bad Man, and a Young Man torn between them, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is part docu-drama, part boy-girl romance, part father-daughter domestic. Each of those elements could have made a compelling film had they been given exclusive focus, but like the traffic light drinks at Cobb & Co, when you mix them together, you just get a grey mess.

    Not helping things is Gekko’s character, whose position within the story is ambiguous for much of the film. In the original he was clearly the bad guy and the audience was able to assume an attitude towards him; but this time out his motivations and goals are so unclear that it’s hard to know how to read any of his scenes. Oftentimes he seem’s to be the most sympathetic and relateable person on screen. People may have hoped that this was going to be the story of Gekko getting out of prison then setting about exacting his revenge and reclaiming his fortune from the evil post-millenial investment bankers: that might well be a cool film, but it’s not this one where Gekko is largely a supporting character.

    The less said about Charlie Sheen’s cameo the better: the credits may have said he was playing Bud Fox, but on-screen there was no sign of his character from the original film – it was as if Sheen himself had stumbled off the set of Two and a Half Men, and bumped into Gekko at a black tie event.

    The caveat to all this is that the actors and director actually deliver strong performances as they valiantly attempt to paper over the severe structural weaknesses inherent in the script. Unfortunately, like the overleveraged investment banks that form the film’s backdrop, without solid fundamentals, collapse is imminent and unavoidable.

  2. I agree with you on all counts, Nick, although certainly I found the financial dialogue almost impenetrable in places (or maybe just dull?), and given most of the audience won’t be investment bankers or come from that sort of stock, AND in my view Stone neglected to inject any *zing* to carry said audience along regardless, I wonder whether this will suffer. I’m not the stalest cookie in the box, so if I didn’t get swept up in that, I wonder whether the majority will?

    I’ll watch the box office with interest.

    HH

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