Let no-one pretend that Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street, a legend in its own right, wasn’t a cheesy, glitzy, bombastic pastiche. That’s what made it so good: Stone’s singular genius has always been his ability to harness the oceans of cheese, syrup, paranoia and hyperbole at Hollywood’s disposal to make his point. To complain that this long-awaited sequel is frequently simplistic or corny, at least by comparison, is therefore well wide of the mark. Stone doesn’t do art house, and you can expect, among flowing rivers of stock-tickers, coursing Madison Avenue traffic and tumbling dominoes, to be walloped fairly firmly over the head with every significant development in the film. You may have no fear of blinking: you won’t miss anything.
Instead, give thanks that Gordon Gekko is back: An aged Michael Douglas has a whale of a time throughout: the eyes may be dimmer, the brow more creased, but the sparkle is there. As it is with the film, as long as it follows the money (advice Gekko would endorse): it is liquid, volatile, assured, intelligent, incisive and surprisingly even handed in its assessment of the latter day moral hazard.
It gets more mired when it goes offroad into the illiquid, sticky depths of the tangled Gekko family history: Carey Mulligan, as Gekko’s daughter Winnie, battles with a conflicted (bordering on nonsensical) role prone to winsome smiling, floods of tears and a tendency to walk out at (and sometimes before) the first sign of trouble. Gekko’s motives are confused: the film can’t decide whether he’s in this for reconciliation posterity, for revenge, or simply “for the game”. Perhaps, in a way, that’s the moral point.
Similarly, Shia Le Boeuf’s Jacob Moore fluctuates between cocksure, instinctive prop trader, misty eyed eco dreamer (he’s stumbled on something which sounds awfully like a perpetual motion machine) and dopey, gullible rookie kid depending on how the situation presents itself. Moore is more Ralph Maccio than Charlie Sheen: he’s too earnest by half, and too nice by three quarters, it being the 2000s and all (apparently mankind gave up philandering in the late 1980s). As a result, despite talking a lot about it, the film never quite generates the same electricity that its predecessor mustered in 1987.
Gordon Gekko remains the beating heart of the film. Around him twirl flying ticker tape, bouncing stock charts and bubbles of all shapes and sizes: bubbles which, as we know, cause destruction, but which Stone gently reminds us (as in a children’s party) can transfix us with fascination, (as in the Cambrian explosion) are the source of all life and (as in the womb) are the source of regeneration. This is no anti-capitalise screed: We need bubbles: it is a lesson of physics as much as economics that there is no return without risk.
In 1987 Gordon Gecko carefully qualified his famous statement: “Greed,” he said, “for lack of a better word, is good”. With his allusion to evolution, revolution, the passage and renewal of life and the inevitable cycle of human frailty, in 2010 Oliver Stone has found that better word: greed is inevitable.
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan
Runtime: 133 min