Review: ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’

It’s been 23 years since the original Wall Street, and Michael Douglas reprises his role as corporate raider Gordon Gekko, freshly released from prison and ready to ascend right back to the top from which he fell. The role of Gordon’s protégé, played by Charlie Sheen in the first film, is filled by current hot-property Shia LeBeouf, the kid who’s been popping up in every big-budget production from Transformers to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’m not entirely sure why.

Here he plays Jacob Moore, a clean-air advocate and propriety trader for the crashing firm of Keller Zabel, headed by his mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella). The reason Zabel’s headed down the tubes is because of a bogus rumor spread by hedge-fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who purportedly also had a hand in bringing Gekko down. James offers to buy the dying firm for a pittance, which leads Zabel to commit suicide and sets Jake out for revenge.

Jake’s also engaged to Winnie (Carey Mulligan), owner of a fledgling environmental blog and Gekko’s daughter, whose relationship with her father has been estranged ever since the suicide of her brother Rudy. At a signing for Gekko’s new book, Jake meets up with his soon-to-be father-in-law and two form a pact: Gekko will help Jake bring down James if Jake helps Gekko reconnect with his daughter. And all the while Jake struggles to get his pet project, a clean, fusion (I believe)-based energy company, off the ground.

Stephen Schiff’s (Lolita, True Crime) screenplay is replete with plot threads and trader talk that for the most part are handled well but frequently suffer from excess. All too often the jargon tends to overshadow key scenes, which can leave most viewers at a loss to understand what just happened. Likewise, the subplot with Jake’s realtor mother (Susan Sarandon) comes out of nowhere and stays on that path, never tying into the main story.

Actually there are three stories Stone’s trying to tell: a revenge tale, a family drama, and some fits of a romance. Of the three, the first is by far the most interesting, but, if one were to look at them separately, none of them seem to have much substance. LeBeouf and Mulligan’s story, for example, consists mostly of the two staring at each other, breaking up, a few more stares, then getting back together. Granted, Stone and Schiff do an admirable job coordinating them, but the focus shifts too often from Jake to Gekko to Zabel to Winnie to James and so on.

JFK featured the most comprehensive cast of characters of any Stone film, but he was wise enough to ground it with Costner’s Jim Garrison. Here the bulk of the film is divided between Douglas and LeBeouf, who’s character Jake is not particularly compelling despite all the conflict surrounding him—and that includes struggling to figure out whether Gekko has actually reformed. But at least he has time for a gratuitous motorcycle race with Brolin.

Douglas, however, is reliable as always and still has the fire to make Gekko a compulsively watchable (though somewhat reformed) character. Brolin likewise does well with the more-Gekko-than-Gekko role but the character nevertheless comes off as almost cartoonishly evil, especially in his scenes with the solemn Jake.

But, despite it all and the film’s two-hour-and-some-change running time, I never found myself wondering when it would be over. Stone’s camerawork is mesmerizing, whether it’s effortlessly following a character or juxtaposing the New York skyline with a stock graph, and the appearance of Gekko always jolted my interest. As a whole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may not have much to it, but it’s no sleeper.

  • HansomRansom
    September 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    For someone who has seen the original Wall Street close to 20 times, MNS really didn’t have any connection or relation to its original. First thing you can’t help but notice about some of the actors and background artist is the geriatrics and bad plastic surgery? With Eli Wallach, you can pick your choice of either impression; an embalmed corpse who snuck out of his open casket or a resident at a retirement home given all the facial twitches in incoherent expressions he made. And god bless Sylvia Miles, but come on…..I loved it when we kept getting a glimpse of her shaky, arthritic hands! And what’s up with her wig, reminds you of those jabbering monkeys wearing clothes playing people all lopsided! My guess is these were some of Ollies old cronies.

    The story was weak, Winnie who didn’t exist during the original though she did have some Sean Young features, but, in my humble opinion it would have been better to keep Rudy alive. As for Josh Brolin’s character – Bretton James being and looking the part of age 42 which would have made him the age of 19 during the original and 23 years old when he setup and testified against Gordon Gekko back in 1990. Plus his portrayal of an antagonistic wasn’t strong enough nor convincing.

    Charlie Sheen’s cameo didn’t come off to well either. Coming off smirking with two young attractive women on each of his side, one can’t help but get the impression of a possible threesome somewhere in the bathroom later in the evening? And when Gekko asked Fox about how BlueStar Airlines is doing these days, he replies he sold it for more money! Uh….. wasn’t that what Gekko originally wanted to do 23 years prior before Fox pulled the rug from under him? I would have loved it if Bud Fox would have come off saying “Blue Horseshoe loves Anacot Steel” instead of “Gordon Gekko”.

    Enough said!

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