Sometimes, words escape even me.
I’ve been trying for about three days now to figure out how to explain why Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is one of the most disappointing films of 2010. Notice I didn’t use the term “worst film.” There’s enough in the movie that works (Michael Douglas is fun to watch as Gordon Gekko and there’s a handful of scenes that perfectly capture the modern atmosphere of financial panic) to keep it from being a truly awful movie. But just because the movie isn’t awful, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any good.
Oh, Wall Street — how did you fail? Let me count the ways.
1) Michael Douglas gives a great performance but he actually has less screen time here than he did in the original Wall Street. Yes, it’s fun to watch Gekko claw his way back up to the top but, once you take those scenes out of the equation, you still have about 1oo minutes of non-Gekko material to slog through.
2) Instead most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf. Let me repeat that — most of the screen time goes to Shia LeBouf. In this film, Shia plays a cocky young financial genius. Let me repeat that. In this film, Shia LeBouf plays a genius. Back before Shia became the human face of the Transformers franchise, I’ll admit that I thought he was kinda cute in his geeky, awkward way. However, in Wall Street, his character isn’t supposed to be geeky or awkward. He’s supposed to be some sort of financial genius.
3) We’re also supposed to automatically sympathize with Shia LeBouf’s character because, while he’s a part of the system that created the recession, he’s also dedicated to funding some sort of green energy project. Much like James Cameron in Avatar, Oliver Stone trots out a simplistic environmental theme here and expects to be praised just for mentioning it. The message is: “Love my film or Mother Earth gets it.”
4) The film’s plot: Shia LeBouf’s mentor and boss — played by Frank Langella — commits suicide after being run out of business by evil millionaire Josh Brolin. So, Shia takes a job working with Brolin. Meanwhile, Shia is also engaged to the daughter of Gordon Gekko. This leads to him taking Gekko on as a mentor. Shia apparently wants to take Brolin down. Or does he? Unfortunately, LeBouf doesn’t seem to know for sure and that comes across in his performance. As a result, the majority of the film is about as exciting as watching anyone else go to work.
5) Josh Brolin’s the villain here. We know he’s a villain because everyone else in the film keeps insisting he’s the villain and Brolin plays the role as if he’s auditioning for a role in the next James Cameron film. Which is to say, Brolin gives a dull and lifeless performance.
6) The little guy who is creating this alternate source of energy that Shia is so obsessed with? The little guy is played by Austin Pendleton who, I swear to God, is one of the most annoying character actors ever. Seriously, Pendleton, stop fucking smiling all the time!
7) Having seen both this and the original Wall Street, I can now say that I have no idea how the stock market works and I really don’t care to learn. I just want everyone to stop yelling and throwing paper all over the place. Seriously, Stone tries to make the “market” scenes exciting here but, once you get over the fact that Stone knows how to use a zoom lens, they’re pretty dull. Lucio Fulci and Jean Rollin — they would have found a cool way to film those scenes. Stone just resorts to the same old tricks.
8) That little smiley face looks so cute with his sunglasses on.
9) As with the original Wall Street, this is yet another film about little boys and their daddy issues. Which father figure will Shia choose? Meanwhile, Shia’s mother (a grating performance from Susan Sarandon) and his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) are portrayed as total fools. Mulligan, after her performance in An Education, especially deserve better than to be stuck playing some sexist fantasy of a human being. Sarandon is blamed for the housing collapse while Mulligan’s character is cheated out of a fortune towards the end of the film. The message here, I guess, is don’t let women have money because we’ll just fuck everything up. I love how I can always count on “progressive” filmmakers to prove themselves to be a bunch of pigs at heart.
10) Charlie Sheen shows up for a really awkward cameo. He’s supposed to be playing his Bud Fox character from the original film but, watching his performance, you get the feeling that Charlie doesn’t remember being in the original film. Showing up at a charity dinner with a separate date on either ar, Bud Fox is presented as being just as corrupt as Gordon Gekko. Michael Douglas, quite frankly, looked somewhat embarrassed by the whole scene. However, as awkward as the scene was, it did manage to perfectly capture the theme of this movie:
Eventually, even Bud Fox will grow up to be Charlie Sheen.