By Felipe Cabrera
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps stars Shia LeBeouf as Jake Moore, a “Wall Street guy” determined to marry his girlfriend Winnie and invest in green technology (fusion), at least until the stock market tanks. In the wake of his mentor’s suicide, financial tycoon Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella), and the plummeting marketplace, Moore proposes to Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
Winnie happens to be the daughter of the infamous Gordon Gekko, reprised by Michael Douglas, who is a few years out of jail and peddling a new book. Moore approaches Gordon and they strike a deal together. Gekko will do business with Moore in exchange for another chance with his daughter. Winnie hasn’t spoken to her father since she was 14-years-old.
Moore then confronts Bretton James (Josh Brolin) of Churchill Schwartz, the man partially responsible for the demise of Keller Zabel, his own firm. Impressed by Moore’s grit, James hires him. Gordon suspects that James was the one who sold him out to the Feds back in the 80s.
Post-lockup Gekko says he’s motivated by time, not vengeance, and indeed time is perhaps the central theme of the film. For the young idealists, Jake and Winnie, time seems to be the only capital they have left. For Gordon, time doesn’t mean possibility. It represents fate.
Michael Douglas plays a more nuanced, slightly sympathetic Gordon Gekko, a more Scrooge, less Satan kind of guy. The original Wall Street was an allegorical morality tale that dealt with insider trading. The sequel has its sights set a little higher: the shit storm the real Wall Street has been embroiled in for the last few years, which is infinitely more complicated. For Stone, merely explaining the plot’s background requires a fair amount of floating numbers, skyline-tracing graphs, and excerpts from both real and fake news programs (sadly no Daily Show). It isn’t until near the end of the movie that the real culprit is revealed: credit default swaps, and other questionably-rated bonds that propelled Frank Langella’s character to Anna Karenina himself at the close of the first act. Screen veteran Eli Wallach gives a particularly memorable performance as a whistling voice of wisdom for Churchill-Schwartz.
There are beautiful shots of New York in this film, perhaps some of the best in any film in recent years. The acting is on point, but the scenes between LeBeouf and Susan Sarandon feel forced. Sarandon plays LeBeouf’s mother who works as a real-estate agent, an illustrative character for the real estate bubble. While Douglas’ warnings about irresponsible practices both inform and drive the plot forward, the final confrontation between LeBeouf and Sarandon doesn’t ring as true as Stone might have intended.
Recent events are everywhere in this movie. One cannot watch Douglas’s performance without feeling the echoes of his present. When Gekko apologizes to his daughter for his mistakes, she reproaches him for not having been there to prevent her brother’s overdose. Douglas delivers a particularly sober but passionate response. Given Douglas’s son’s drug use, and his own recent cancer diagnosis (cancer having replaced greed as Gecko’s favorite word in this film), one can’t help but construe the trials of Douglas’s own life with his character’s.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS opens on September 24th in theaters nationwide.