Gekko back with message for the post-crash era
Film of the Week: Douglas magnetic in Money Never Sleeps - but has Wall Street reboot come too late?
In May 2007 the news that Wall Street director Oliver Stone was to make a sequel two decades on was met with bemusement, scepticism and the inevitable quips that Stone was perversely following his evil anti-hero Gordon Gekko's mantra that "greed is good".
Yet within months of that announcement the United States was in the grip of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression. Suddenly it looked like Stone could at last use Gekko to tell his cautionary tale about the pitfalls of unchecked ambition and greed.
Back in 1987, this had been Stone's aim in making his original film. Instead, Wall Street had the opposite effect. Despite the film being released just prior to the 'Black Monday' stock market crash, Michael Douglas's charismatic, Oscar-winning villain was hailed as a poster-boy for excess, an inspiration to many of those who would be responsible for the global credit crunch two decades later.
Gekko may have become a boardroom icon and household name but, 23 years on, movie audiences are all too familiar with the real-life boardroom sagas of Enron and Lehman Brothers and the downfall of characters such as Bernie Madoff.
In Money Never Sleeps we meet Gekko as he is released from prison in 2001 having served eight years in federal prison for securities fraud. Still clutching his antiquated cellphone, he quickly realises he needs to adapt to the 21st century. Fast-forward another seven years and Gekko has reinvented himself as a celebrity author and a prophet of fiscal doom.
While Douglas is as magnetic as ever (the movie was in the can well before his current cancer treatment began), Gekko's character is relegated to a sub-plot to make way for the film's focus - the story of an idealistic but ambitious young trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who just happens to be in love with Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), Gekko's estranged daughter.
Arguably, the messages behind Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps should never have been more relevant. Yet Stone's sequel seems to pull its punches. Glossy cinematography and a feel-good script overshadow any condemnatory messages.
Perhaps Stone sensed that, in late 2010, the audience for Money Never Sleeps would be too recession-weary to want a hard-hitting expose of the perils of insider trading and leveraged debt.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is now on general release in the UK.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:Neil Smith, Total Film: "In the end it's the performances rather than the politics that save the day - not just from Douglas, predictably splendid in his signature role, but from his co-stars as well. Both [Carey] Mulligan and [Josh] Brolin bring heft and class to their one-note roles." (3/5 stars)
Kim Newman, Empire: "There's a weird mismatch between financial and emotional stories: for most of the film, Gekko is on the margins, rumpled and contrite and not at all the shark in a suit we probably wanted to see when we bought our tickets." (3/5 stars)
Kirk Honeycutt, the Hollywood Reporter: "Can you win two Oscars playing the same role? An actor rarely gets the opportunity to revive a breakthrough role in a way that allows him to rethink the character in terms of changes time has wrought and to reflect on where fatal flaws once lay. Douglas does this brilliantly."
Justin Chang, Variety: "Older, grayer and perhaps a touch less snakelike, Douglas is still insinuatingly good, and his performance lays the groundwork for the film's one spectacularly cynical twist - one that proves too much for the film's crowd-pleasing instincts to bear." ·
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