Directed by Oliver Stone, Wall
Street: Money Never Sleeps is the rarest of Hollywood sequels, in that it seemingly has
an artistic rather than financial motivation for its birth. This is all the more
ironic given the subject matter of the first film, a financial drama of spotlighted moral decay, and that it saw life in the go-go 1980s, both deftly encapsulating the mantra of its setting-sun era (“Greed is good”) but also, and perhaps much more tellingly, providing a fleeting glimpse into the future (“I create nothing — I own“), and the working mindset of financial services wizards and captains of industry for whom the American economy and electorate are seemingly little more than their grown-up sandbox and toys.
Having served more than eight years in prison for securities fraud, disgraced Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) emerges in 2001, just after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Seven years later, he’s peddling a half-apologetic, half-prophetic book forecasting doom for the American economy. Young Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), meanwhile, is an ambitious proprietary trader whose affection for both green energy as well as the green of money gets tested when his company fails. Against a backdrop involving both opportunity and jostling related to an old rival, venal trader Bretton James (Josh Brolin), Gordon tries to use his professional knowledge base to arm-twist Jake in friendly fashion into helping him reconnect with his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), to whom Jake is engaged.
Stone’s sequel to his 1987 zeitgeist hit, which won Douglas a Best Actor Oscar, would seem positioned to really sink or soar, given both its unique standing as a Hail Mary-type throwback drama, and its desperately au courant status given the nation’s newfound focus on its economic maladies. Thankfully, Stephen Schiff and Allan Loeb’s script is admirably rooted in character, so the drama pulls one along fairly naturally, abetted by performances that don’t forsake the human element. Whether by cajolement, threat or end-around obfuscation, Stone squeezes out of LaBeouf so much of the nervous-chatterbox energy and too-cool-for-school insouciance that characterize the bulk of his work. Similarly, Douglas taps into nicely layered reserves of an alpha dog brought low, and in significant ways reformed — but someone who still has a burning, hardwired ambition for relevance, above all else.
There’s a pinch of ridiculous alpha-male jockeying (involving a scene of motorcycle racing), but overall Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is engaging and slick without ever coming across as pompous — its story hinging on believable twists and turns born of personality, not wildly fluctuating narrative convenience. Take note, Hollywood moguls. For more on the film, click here. For another, longer take, meanwhile, from Telly Davidson, click here. (20th Century Fox, PG-13, 131 minutes)