Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wall Street-Money Never Sleeps: Grade C

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin; Co-writer & Director Oliver Stone.

This sequel is a huge disappointment for anyone who enjoyed the 1987 original morality play. Back then, when Gordon Gecko (Douglas) declared, “Greed is good,” we understood exactly what he meant and who he was. He got his comeuppance when his young protégé (Charlie Sheen) got a strange attack of conscience that switched him from greed to revenge. Sheen makes a fun but meaningless cameo appearance in this movie.

Gecko is released from prison, broke and alone. His estranged daughter (Mulligan) won’t speak to him, but her fiancé (LaBeouf), a young, ambitious trader, strikes up a relationship. In this version, Brolin is the greedy powerhouse financier and there is talk (but no solid story) that he is the one who put Gecko behind bars, so he is clearly identified as “bad” and we know he has to go down by the end of the movie. But it will be because of Wall Street infighting, not because of the self-destructive self-blindness that made the original Gecko such an interesting character.

Before his fall though, Brolin destroys Langella’s company (supposed to stand for Lehmann Brothers) by front-running and shorting the stock, as if that explained the collapse of Lehmann. LaBeouf, who worked for Langella, is thus out of a job but improbably falls into the employ of the evil and hated Brolin (under not-very-believable circumstances).

There are many scenes of bigwigs sitting around huge conference tables deciding the fate of the financial world. Certain actors were obviously cast to look like Hank Paulsen and Timothy Geitner, but the financial chatter they speak is drivel. Either the writers didn’t understand the extremely dramatic personal and financial dynamics of that crisis or they despaired of explaining it and resorted to obfuscatory babble instead. It could have been so good. But that would have been a different story. But at least it would have been a story.

Instead, that theme is dropped and out of the blue, Gecko reveals to LaBeouf that he has a secret $100m trust fund set up for his daughter and all she has to do is sign it over to him and he will give it to her early. Why she would go along is not explained. Predictably he keeps all the money, invests it, and gets rich again in a few days (somehow). How this is related to the Brolin character is, …well, it’s not related. The writers simply lost their way and the story line becomes scrambled in a tremendous lost opportunity.

Acting is strong throughout, especially by Mulligan and Langella. Douglas shows his self-confidence and presence in a fine performance. But all the characters are cartoony, so there is not much acting opportunity. Music is mostly dreadful, but probably aimed at a different demographic than me. What do I know from pop music. Photography is at times striking, such as oversaturated cityscape scenes. There are a few cinematic effects like split screen telephone calls that add nothing. I enjoyed all the actors but hated the movie so the average is a middling score.

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