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.
“Love my film or Mother Earth gets it.” — You may want to copyright that particular term. 🙂
Seems like Money Never Sleeps just solidifies my point that Stone might have peeked as a filmmaker with Platoon and has been going downhill (though in a leisurely and gradual way) since.
His other films since Platoon have been quite good, but they’ve never reached the same loft heights as war film. Even Born on the 4th of July, as lauded by many as it has been meandered way too long and really hammered down just how evil people who supported the Vietnam War really were.
Stone, I think, have begun to believe the notion that he’s Che or Castro of the film industry. He’s the Hugo Chavez of filmmaking. He makes his films as a way to make the downtrodden and oppressed voices heard.
Oliver Stone has become a bore is what he’s become.
I caught Born on the 4th of July on TV about 3 years ago. The main impression I came away with was that Tom Cruise was all gung-ho and right-wing even after he was paralyed but then after realizing he’d never get a chance to fuck Kyra Sedgwick, he suddenly decided that he hated America. About the only scene that really worked for me was when Tom Cruise and Willem DaFoe were having their little wheelchair fight out in the middle of Mexico and that scene was effective just from a dark comedy perspective.
I think what I found more than just a bit disingenious about Born on the 4th of July was how it painted anyone who disagreed with the Anti-War and Peace Movement as bloodthirsty, warmongering and uncivilized. This is why I thought Platoon was a much more powerful testament to how The War really was but without bashing the anti-war message over the audience’s head.
I enjoyed Wall Street for the fact that it was so male-oriented and finances always intrigued me. Hell, who am I kidding…I worshipped Gordon Gekko and was more than just a bit peeved that the little sniveling Bud Fox ended up being the one to take him down. In my reality Gekko knew what Fox was up to and ended up tricking everyone.
The stock market works like this: A company worth $10 million is divided up into a million shares selling for $10 each that anybody can buy. The value of companies should rise and fall based on how much money the company can make in the future with current products and new products, and in current markets and new markets.
But, in reality, the stock prices rise and fall for numerous reasons unrelated to earnings, such as human emotions that cause everybody to buy and sell as a herd. Because emotions are in play, it gives guys like Gekko a chance to swoop in and buy a company with potential for high earnings at a cheap price. Or to bet against companies that are bid up too high without the earnings to support the stock price.
I thought Wall Street Money Never Sleeps had a weak story and that Matt Damon should have played the lead character. But Michael Douglas was great again as Gekko and I loved this line to his nemisis. “Let’s make a deal. If you stop telling lies about me, I’ll stop telling the truth about you.”
You’re right — Matt Damon would have been ideal for the lead role. Of course, you have to understand that I think any movie would be greatly improved by the presence of Matt Damon but especially this one.
Michael Douglas really did steal the entire film (appropriately enough, considering what Gekko does towards the end of the movie). Whenever it was just Shia trying to come across like an adult, I was just like “When is Michael Douglas coming back!?”
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