When Oliver Stone announced he was making a film called World Trade Centre the world took a collective gasp. One of America’s most controversial filmmakers – a man who seemed to revel in creating hysteria among the right-wing media – was about to examine a nation’s still-gaping wound. What horrors would he unleash? How dare he seek to make money from 9/11? How many websites would spring up debunking his wild theories?
The world needn’t have worried, much as it needn’t have worried – and it did – when it was announced he’d be making W., a biopic of then-President George W. Bush. For both films turned out to be surprisingly safe, uncontroversial endeavours. Fine films both, but this was Stone behaving himself. This was a man seeking primarily to entertain, and succeeding.
So despite the fact that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was a sequel no one wanted, given the current global economic crisis one might be forgiven for expecting Stone to create something if not incendiary then at least relevant. There’s no one to offend here (bankers are fair game right now) so perhaps he’s itching to shake things up a bit; expose a few things. Certainly the prospect of Michael Douglas returning as Gordon Gekko, emerging from prison and quickly weaselling his way back onto the Street, being involved with a situation we’re all dealing with on a daily basis is mouth-watering, but the results are bordering on disastrous.
Money Never Sleeps is clearly the work of consummate professionals. It’s well-directed for the most part, it’s glossy, attractive, and shiny. The performances are good, the music adequate if unmemorable.
But that’s just about all there is to recommend it. While the script should be applauded for not pandering to the audience, it’s often very difficult to decipher what exactly is going on. Characters mumble as they quickly explain the intricacies of the financial dealings – essential to the plot – in often throwaway dialogue. I’m not suggesting that the script doesn’t make sense – I’m sure it does – but on a dozen occasions the actors might as well be speaking in a foreign language. I had to watch the film twice, both times with subtitles, and making good use of the rewind button, and I still can’t explain it in detail. I understood the basic structure of the film – and it is as basic as it gets – but there’s nothing here that makes me want to investigate further. I don’t care about the parts I didn’t understand.
But maybe that lack of understanding is just my failing. What is made clear are the consequences and repercussions of the characters’ dealings. While we may not understand fully quite how we got to this point, we know why we’re here and what purpose it serves the plot. Unfortunately the script is a real clunker, and it‘s the film‘s major flaw. While it does contain a handful of great lines there are some – many, in fact – exchanges and lines of dialogue that are literally laughable. Subtlety is not its strong point. I can’t recall ever seeing a film made by people of this calibre that made me groan as much, or a script that hammered its points home so brutally yet still managed to say absolutely nothing whatsoever. It reminded me on occasion of the Star Wars prequels, and yes, I’m serious.
Initially it gives the impression that it has something to say. It’s set in 2008 and there’s the ominous spectre of the US housing market collapse hanging over the opening few scenes. But we’re left waiting for a calamity that never happens, or at least when it does happen it’s so thoroughly buried underneath that club-footed dialogue it barely registers. All we have to cling to for excitement is the uncertainty about Gekko: he appears to be reformed, but who knows? Gekko is a minor icon in recent cinema history. It should be fascinating to see him older, perhaps wiser, but Michael Douglas is given next to nothing to chew on. At best it’s a bit like watching Hannibal Lecter stoking a fire and relaxing in his favourite chair for two hours while reading the paper, and at worst – in his opening gambit, no less, addressing a room full of college students – it‘s like watching Rupert Pupkin‘s stand up routine in a scene that – genuinely, and without hyperbole – should be studied for generations as a lesson in how not to direct film.
Oliver Stone is one of my favourite directors – I want to state that for the record – but this is a total stinker.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was released on DVD January 31.
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas and Carey Mulligan
Runtime: 133 min