Yesterday, me and my friend Jeff were planning on seeing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. However, there was one problem — I’d never seen the original Wall Street. Though I owned the movie on DVD, I’d never actually bothered to sit down to watch it. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that this was the movie that won Michael Douglas an Oscar. I knew that Douglas played a character named Gordon Gekko who, at one point in the film, delivered the line, “Greed is good.” Who hasn’t seen that clip?
So, yesterday, before leaving to see the sequel (which I’ll be reviewing in the near future), I sat down and watched the original. I discovered that there’s a reason why everyone remembers Gordon Gekko’s little “Greed is good” speech. It’s literally the only memorable part of the entire movie.
Wall Street tells the tale of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a young stock broker who becomes a protegé to an intense and amoral businessman named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Gekko specializes in taking over other companies and putting people out of work. He wants to take over an airline that employs Bud’s father. Bud’s father is played by Martin Sheen and he’s such a self-righteous, judgmental, blue-collar asshole that you find yourself hoping that Gekko does put him out of work. Anyway, Bud engages in insider trading (which is apparently a crime though I’m not sure as the film seems to assume that everyone already understands how the stock market works) yet then finds his conscience awakened when Gekko’s greed threatens his dad’s job. Yes, this is yet another one of those laughably masculine films in which an overage boy has to pick a father figure.
I guess we’re supposed to care about whether or not he picks the right father but seriously, Bud Fox is such a dull character and Charlie Sheen is so miscast that I found myself wondering when the film’s real hero was going to show up. I had some hope when James Spader popped up in a supporting role but no, the lead character here is Bud Fox and he’s played by Charlie Sheen.
Not surprisingly, this is pretty much a male-dominated film. There’s only two notable female characters in the film. Darryl Hannah plays a ditz and Sean Young plays a bitch and neither one gets a chance to even have fun with the stereotypes. However, we all know that this film is really just about Gordon Gekko plunking his twanger over money and Bud Fox jackin’ the beanstalk to Gekko.
However, once you see Michael Douglas’s performance as Gordon Gekko, it’s a bit easier to understand why he causes Bud to walk Willie the One-Eyed Wonder Worm. Douglas truly is amazing in this role. In fact, Douglas is so charismatic in the role that it actually hurts the movie. It’s hard to take much pleasure in listening to Martin Sheen talk about how much he loves his union when you realize that all he’s doing is taking up time that could have been devoted to Michael Douglas fucking over poor people. I don’t know if a bad film can ever be truly redeemed by just one good performance but Douglas definitely makes Wall Street — with all of its awkward moralizing and sexist (and sexual) confusion — worth seeing.
As little as I thought of Wall Street, I still found myself excited about seeing the sequel. Why? Because I knew Michael Douglas was coming back and Martin Sheen wasn’t. Perhaps, I thought, this sequel will simply focus on Gekko being an over-the-top, charming viper instead of forcing us to sit through a repeat of the first film’s heavy-handed moralizing and simplistic political posturing. Of course, I was wrong but that’s another review for another day.
Oh, one last note: Oliver Stone’s direction is far better than his script. I once read an old review from Pauline Kael in which she said that Oliver Stone directed “as if someone held a gun to his head and shouted, ‘Go!'” and this is certainly the case with Wall Street. That said, I still find it hard to stay interested in any scene that features stock brokers screaming at each other and tossing around little bits of paper. Seriously, how does the Stock Market work? Whenever I see any footage from the New York stock exchange, it just looks incredibly silly.