When you direct a film that wins Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director, what do you do for an encore? Well, after "Platoon," Oliver Stone looked inward and turned to his family history. There had never been a great film made about business, groused his dad, who worked on Wall Street for 34 years. And so Stone turned his attention to the world his father inhabited. In the commentary and on one of the bonus features, Stone tells us that the decent, philosophical character played by Hal Holbrook is the one patterned after his father, to whom the film is dedicated.
The ruthless Gordon Gekko is another story.
Gekko is a Wall Street wizard who gets the best tables at restaurants, moves to the front of the line at swanky clubs, and never has any trouble finding a beautiful woman to hang on his arm. That's what happens when you buy and sell companies, stocks, and commodities with all the ruthlessness of a man who can quote from Sun-Tzu ("Read Sun-Tzu's 'The Art of War.' Every battle is won before it's ever fought."). And this guy says plenty of quotable lines himself as he tries to tutor a new protégé. If I had a brain that was wired differently and aspired to become a take-no-prisoners success in the business world, I'd probably replay some of Gekko's lines over and over again in my head:
Greed is good.
Lunch is for wimps.
It's all about bucks, kid. The rest is conversation.
I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.
You got 90 percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal.
If you need a friend, get a dog.
Michael Douglas is so Gordon Gekko that it's hard to believe he was Stone's third choice. Good thing Richard Gere and Warren Beatty passed, because Douglas's performance earned the only Oscar for "Wall Street." Though he wasn't recognized for his role, Charlie Sheen, fresh from working with Stone on "Platoon," is perfectly cast as the Gekko wannabe who cold-calls his hero 39 days in a row and brings him a box of Cuban cigars on his birthday, just to get five minutes of his time.
That five minutes changes his life, and not all for the better. Yes, young Bud Fox feels his star start to rise after he feeds Gekko inside information that he gets from his father (real-life dad Martin Sheen), a union man at a small airplane manufacturing company. And yes, he finds himself getting the woman on his arm that Gekko usually has (Daryl Hannah). But you suspect all along where this cautionary business fable is going. Though Gekko isn't above bending or breaking the law--he gathers illegal insider trading information as routinely as the rest of us read newspapers--he's smart enough to have underlings sign documents saying that they alone are responsible. If somebody's going to prison, it's not going to be the big dog.
This is the 20th anniversary edition, and sadly the film's subject matter is still current. There are still hordes of Gordon Gekkos out there scheming to build the next Enron and let the little guys take the fall. Maybe Stone knew all along how timeless his film would become, and filming totally in Manhattan certainly adds to the sense of realism. Some of the seedier elements of the city had to be cut, he regrets, but there's still a strong New York City atmosphere and a Wall Street "look" that really feels like insider information. One other thing struck me, and this is a pure side note. I was surprised to see the same goofy, toothy performance from John G. McGinley as Bud's cold-calling cubicle pal, Marvin, that he recently gave in "Are We Done Yet?"
The opening title sequence was so rough and so riddled with grain that I worried the whole film would be like that. Thankfully, that's not the case. It's not as pristine a film as one might hope, but the graininess diminishes significantly after the opening. Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen (which fills out the full 16x9 TV screen), "Wall Street" features a color palette that seems a little sedate, like a business suit. You notice this when occasional bursts of color flare up, as when Hannah is decked out in a bright dress. The quality is decent, overall, but nothing to rave about.
Same with the audio, that offers options in English 5.1 and the uncommon 4.0 Dolby Surround, or Mono in French and Spanish languages. Subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish.
If you haven't heard Stone talk before, it takes some getting used to. He speaks with such matter-of-fact seriousness that it sounds like a commuter train engineer talking about his day. There's not much in the way of excitement displayed, though Stone will crack the occasional joke. But there's plenty of information and illustrations here to show why Stone is such a successful filmmaker. I'd rate the commentary as slightly above-average. Disc two features an intro by stone and two documentaries, "Greed is Good" and "Money Never Sleeps." The making-of documentary is unfortunately a "sleeper." I found it just plain dull, as I did Stone's "introduction." Better were the 20-some short deleted scenes with Stone's optional commentary, which finds the director identifying scenes that he wishes he hadn't cut, telling why ones had to go, and bemoaning the "waste of money" that one scene was.
Stone gives us a strong follow-up to "Platoon" with strong performances. "Wall Street" is for all the ladder-climbers out there, and all the people under them who feel like rungs. If it's limited in its appeal and effectiveness, it's because there's little in the way of surprises. From the very beginning, you can see where this inevitable film is headed.