"Someone reminded me I once said 'Greed is Good.' Now it seems it's legal . . . because everyone is drinking the same Kool Aid."
Gordon Gekko is an iconic movie character, and he's lost nothing in the 23 years he's been living outside of the public consciousness. Brought to life again by Michael Douglas in 2010, the "Greed is Good" guru is still compelling to watch. It's no wonder that the Hollywood Foreign Press gave Douglas a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Revisiting Gekko after the character served eight years for fraud and then dropped out of sight to write a book that would earn him big bucks on the college circuit, Douglas plays his character with an understatement that must have required a great deal of restraint, given how caricatured he could have become.
"Money is the bitch that never sleeps. And she's jealous."
As his daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), warns Jake, her boyfriend and soon-to-be-fiance, this Gekko can't change his spots. He's not to be trusted.
The film's best moments come from the fascination that Jake (Shia LaBeouf) has for Gekko, who, despite that heavy sentence, still represents the pinnacle for Wall Street wheelers and dealers. Though he knows Winnie wants nothing to do with her father, blaming him for her family's disintegration, he still seeks him out and begins a tenuous quasi-business relationship with him that he keeps from her. The cover art depicts the two men in a pose that reminds us of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I'm sure that's no coincidence. Subtle messages in Allan Loeb's and Stephen Schiff's screenplay suggest that there's something romantically outlaw-like about inside traders and Wall Street rogues who play a shell game with other people's money. They're anti-Robin Hoods, who steal from the poor to make the rich richer.
"The mother of all evil is leveraging debt."
Though non-insiders may have a tough time articulating all of the plot points and business elements, the basic narrative goes something like this: Jake strikes up a secret relationship with Gekko, wanting to learn from him and in exchange agreeing to help him get close to his estranged daughter again. On the business front, Jake is extremely close to the patriarch of his firm, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), but when Bretton James (Josh Brolin) works behind the scenes to bring down Zabel's company and offers pennies on the dollar to buy the company and "stabilize" it and Zabel becomes a casualty, the stage is set for revenge and retribution.
When the script sticks close to the concept of mentors and eager pupils it takes on a level of complexity that we just don't get from Oliver Stone's direction this outing. Stone too often relies on montages to deliver important exposition, and those segments move so quickly that it's tough to process the information unless you have a business background. The level of jargon and technical information is ramped up from the first "Wall Street" (1987), and that makes for a bit of a muddle. Treasury secretaries and Federal Reserve Boards are meeting with Wall Street wizards and I can imagine that many in the audience are wondering why, or if such things occur in real life.
"It's not about the money; it's about the game."
As happens with too many films these days, the emphasis seems to be on quick editing cuts, constant movement, and a pace that offers very little time for reflection. But that creates a blur of activity and information that almost serves to desensitize audiences. "Wall Street" had a purer storyline and played out with far greater tension, as a result.
Mulligan's talents seem underused in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the way that Katharine Ross's were in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." She has a few scenes that give her room to create, but nothing more. And the side plot with Susan Sarandon as Jake's wheeling-and-dealing-(but losing) mother seems ineffectual and nothing more than a brief digression. Throw in a cameo by Charlie Sheen as Bud from the first film and it all seems just a little superficial.
Then there's Stone, who seems prone to being overly obvious. We get an earring montage at a foo-foo social event that over-emphasizes the point that the culture is driven by money. But that's not as bad as the cheesy moment Stone gives us when his new (and decidedly not improved) boss gives him praise, and as he walks away we see an image of Mr. Zabel in the mirror. And that's not even a point-of-view shot! Elsewhere, we get segues that are also a little forced.
What saves the film, as I said, are the mentor-pupil relationship storylines and the still-fascinating character of Gordon Gekko as played by Douglas.
Aside from background noise in some exterior shots, atmospheric grain in others, and some murky moments where detail is lost in shadow, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" looks very good in 1080p. I saw no artifacts from the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc, and while you couldn't call the color palette vibrant, the colors and skin-tones are natural-looking. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that really does a nice job with ambient sound, especially on the trading floor or in the streets of New York. But it's not a dynamic soundtrack by any means, as only a few times do you get sound traveling across the field (Jake's motorcycle comes to mind). Additional audio options are Spanish, French, or Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
In addition to the Digital Copy and Stone's full commentary track--and if you know Stone, you know that his commentaries vary according to information and whatever low-key mood he's in--there's a 50-minute making-of feature, "Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street," which treats the sequel in relation to the original film and contrasts the characters in each.
There's a nice batch of deleted/extended scenes, too--29 minutes of them, introduced by Stone. Among them are subplots that never made it into the film, and just as well, if you ask me. I'm with Stone when he says it would have confused things, though I would have added "even more."
Rounding out the bonus features are two promo-style extras: "Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character with . . ." (26 min.), about how the actors zeroed in on their characters, and "A Conversation with Oliver Stone and the Cast of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (16 min.), which actually packs a lot of information into a tiny package. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is BD-Live enabled, and the trailer is also included.
Maybe "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" doesn't pack the punch of the original because there's no revelation. Greed still prevails, white collar crime is still on the rise, and Stone isn't able to add to the message of the first film in a significant way. "Money Never Sleeps" almost seems slightly romanticized in places . . . and that's a step backwards, if you ask me.