Leave it to Oliver Stone to churn out a sequel for Wall Street after 23 years, and manage to make it an eccentric and sometimes compelling flick. This time it's good versus evil under the umbrella of the financial crisis and mortgage debacle. You'd think the politically savvy Stone would be all over this in a JFK conspiracy way, but instead he uses the fall of the American empire to serve as a backdrop for an old-fashioned love story. Stone's direction is far from the psychedelic onslaught of Natural Born Killers
and the weird, detached look at George W. Bush in W. But as always, every shot counts. Stone's best movies are preoccupied with the primal matters of power, honor, loyalty and disgrace.
Wall Street 2 begins with a quick voice-over analogy of bubbles bursting, likened to the origin of the human race. A quick photomontage catches us up on the modern-day financial crisis. Returning as greed incarnate, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from prison in a scene that's both hilarious and sad.
Now ask yourself if this sounds like Oliver Stone territory or not: Gekko is estranged from his daughter, left-leaning blogger Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who wants nothing to do with him. Her fiancé is a Manhattan go-getter Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a trader for Keller Zabel Investments, although his real passion is alternative energy. Tragedy strikes for Jake's mentor, Lou Zabel (Frank Langella), and Zabel's firm collapses. Arrogant Wall Street entrepreneur/manipulator, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), buys the firm for virtually nothing and recruits the promising Jake, who wants revenge. Jake then tries to assist in a reconciliation between Winnie and her dad, but actually ends up covertly teaming up with Gekko, who has written a best selling expose of Wall Street. Gekko manipulates all those around him, lying in wait and phony humbleness, ready to strike.
Once again, we see the glare of capitalism and the energy-drink guzzling, gambling-addicted trader junkies playing with our money. But after that, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is mainly a slow-moving melodrama. This flick depends on a smart premise, spelling out the bailouts, fallouts and money schemes that tanked our economy, but still relies on old-fashioned movie making to tell a compelling intricate tale, then screws it all up with the cheesiest last five minutes and a feel-good phony-ass Hollywood ending.
Still, Stone usually wrings the best performances out of his actors. Mirroring real life, the fact that Douglas has throat cancer and could be battling for his life adds a peculiar sensitivity to the subject matter. The lure of Douglas' Gekko has its moments of pathos that leads us to believe that this time around he has real heartfelt emotions, yet we still wonder if he's on a quest for redemption... or is he maneuvering his way into the next big scam. Douglas' command of his character and his scenes are the best to watch. Ninety-three-year-old Eli Wallach looks like a crazed whistling Chinese wizard. Brolin seamlessly plays the sneering vindictive evil inside trader, screwing over everyone in his path with no remorse. Langella excels as the old-school businessman standing his ground at the precipice of disaster. LaBeouf works in this role, but there's a "watch me - I'm acting" feel to the performance. Mulligan smiles when she's happy, tears up when sad and does a good American accent, but the pairing with LaBeouf is absolutely unbelievable from the get go.
Wall Street 2 has a spunky, laid-back soundtrack by David Byrne and Brian Eno and also resurrects the original's use of Talking Heads' song "This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)" for the ending credits. The Schwarz Churchill firm's bailout trials and tribulations are thinly veiled as Goldman Sachs' housing market rip-off, but of course, Stone's theme is not just money as the root of all evil. That would be too abstract, cold and impersonal for Oliver's high-end romantic, Hollywood-meets-Shakespeare know-how.
It looked like this movie was going to leave us with a feeling of futility and a warped morality, but instead of a powerful finale, Stone switched gears and took the cornball express to Hollywood's happy-ending land.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LeBouf, Carrie Mulligan, Josh Brolin
Directed by Oliver Stone