Film Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Also known as: Wall Street 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2010
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff
Based on: characters by Stanley Weiser, Oliver Stone
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Austin Pendleton, Sylvia Miles, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito, Jason Clarke, Natalie Morales, Oliver Stone (cameo), Jim Cramer (cameo), Donald Trump (scene deleted)

Dune Entertainment, Edward R. Pressman Film, Twentieth Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs? They get slaughtered.” – Gordon Gekko

Like Godfather, Part III, I feel like this movie gets unnecessarily shitted on.

I get it, though, it’s hard not to compare it to its predecessor and it’s certainly not as good but remove that from the equation and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is still a pretty good finance industry thriller with a lot of good twists and turns that keep your attention and leave you wondering where the story is going to end up.

Sure, there are some things I would’ve done differently but the movie’s main plot focuses on a new character and completely different situations. It just so happens that this character is engaged to Gordon Gekko’s estranged daughter and with him getting out of prison, he comes into their lives and that has a big effect on their relationship and their future.

The film is well shot and it has pretty alluring cinematography. But when you’ve got Oliver Stone behind the camera, you should expect competent and majestic visuals. Needless to say, he doesn’t disappoint.

I like that this film wasn’t just a rehash of the original and that the main character wasn’t just another Bud Fox. Shia LaBeouf’s Jacob was a better person and even if he was on the verge of doing some shady shit, his morale and goodness prevailed. Sure, he got burned a few times along the way, playing with fire, but he won out in the end because he was better than the schemers around him.

Additionally, this movie had so much talent that it’s hard not to enjoy the performances by Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella and so many others.

Hell, we even get Charlie Sheen back for a single scene cameo. Although, it would’ve been much more interesting to see him involved in the story somewhat, even if just minutely. His appearance is cool to see, as he runs into Gordon all these years later, but it also felt forced and a bit out of place.

really liked Brolin in this, though. He was essentially this movie’s version of what Gekko was to the first but something about him was even more dastardly. Where I kind of see Gekko as a sometimes misguided anti-hero in the series, Brolin was certainly a villain.

Also, I liked that this picture focuses a lot on the collapse of Wall Street and involves the Federal Reserve. As someone who followed and wrote about this stuff circa 2008, it felt like the film represented that era well.

In the end, this isn’t as great as its predecessor but it’s still a fine follow-up and frankly, I’d welcome a Wall Street 3 in another decade or so.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: Wall Street (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Sean Young, James Spader, Saul Rubinek, Sylvia Miles

Amercent Films, American Entertainment Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Lou Mannheim

I wrote pretty extensively on this film several years ago for a politics and economics site that I used to run. That article also made it into one of the books I published. That article was called Gordon Gekko, the Hero?

I won’t spend too much time rambling on about the morality, themes and messages within this film, as that lengthy article already does. This is a movie review, so I’ll focus on the things that make it great beyond just the story and my interpretation of its core characters and their real motivations.

To start, this is hands down one of my favorite Oliver Stone movies. It may, in fact, be my favorite but it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Platoon and JFK.

This is also one of Charlie Sheen’s best performances and he held his own and wasn’t overshadowed by the stupendous cast around him, especially Michael Douglas, one of the greatest actors of his generation.

I did find Daryl Hannah to be kind of weak, though. I don’t necessarily blame her for that, as her character barely got time to develop or to allow you to care for her. I feel as if she was more than a predatory gold-digging shark but that’s pretty much all we got to see from her.

Additionally, I felt like Sean Young was really underutilized and honestly, the women just seemed like they were put on the backburner. Also, this wasn’t really their story but it felt like their efforts were a bit wasted for what they potentially could’ve brought to the film.

Anyway, the story is solid but the pacing can drag a bit, here and there, and I think that’s the main reason why I don’t see this as more of a masterpiece. That’s not to say it’s dull but a lot of scenes felt like padding, as if Stone wanted to hit a two hour mark on the running time.

The film is also full of so many great character actors in smaller roles and it’s sort of like a who’s who of cool ’80s dudes that were in everything. I especially liked James Karen and Hal Holbrook in this. John C. McGinley also stole the show in the scenes he was in.

Being an Oliver Stone picture, one should expect this to be technically sound and beautiful and it is. Wall Street doesn’t disappoint and it features some stellar cinematography and a few iconic shots that have been burned into my memory since I first watched this picture as a kid in the late ’80s.

Also, the music is perfect from the film’s score by Stewart Copeland and the pop music tracks sprinkled throughout. It’s been so long since I’ve last seen this that I forgot how much I loved that motorcycle sequence to Brian Eno’s “Mea Culpa”.

All in all, this is still a fantastic motion picture where just about everything goes right. There are those few minor flaws but they hardly detract from how great this movie is, as a whole.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Talking Pulp: Gordon Gekko, the Hero?

*Written circa 2010 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.

Gordon Gekko affected me as a child. When I first saw the film Wall Street, I was around nine or ten years-old. I remember my father watching it on HBO or Showtime. I certainly didn’t understand the film at that time but I do remember my first impression of Gordon Gekko and knowing, even at that young age, that the film misrepresented him and made him the villain when in reality, he was the hero.. or at least, the anti-hero.

I didn’t know why he was the hero at the time, I just remember being somewhat afraid of him but also respecting him and seeing him as sort of a mentor. Granted he was a mentor to Bud Fox in the film but I saw him as a mentor to the film’s audience. Something about that character stuck with me and became a weird obsession. I didn’t know what he meant with his “greed” speech when I was ten but I knew it was important and the most pivotal point in the film.

It was Wall Street and Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko that really got me into being a huge fan of film on a more intimate level. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Hammer Horror, Back to the Future, Robocop and Predator mixed with Oliver Stone’s masterpiece Wall Street made me want to be a filmmaker.

I never became a filmmaker, unless you count videos of me chugging vodka and shooting bottle rockets from my mouth on YouTube as real cinema, but I did become a writer. Often times I would write outlines and even scripts for films that I wanted to make. At fifteen, I started to write a script called Gekko which was a sequel to Wall Street that had a time traveling twist to it. Essentially, the film ended with Gordon Gekko, as a member of the “Greed Party” defeating FDR and Herbert Hoover in the presidential race of 1932. Yeah, it was a fucking horrible idea and I think I used the script as scrap paper for another project I started writing; I think that one was about vampires and the Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War. Anyway, Gekko obviously affected me and influenced some of my creative endeavors during high school.

As I got older, towards the end of high school, I was more of a liberal. Still, something about Gekko continued to resonate with me. At that point in my life, I had more of a mentality like Bud Fox and his father but deep down, I knew they were wrong. I mean, Bud Fox was a snitch and a bitch in the end and with that, he lost any street cred he could’ve potentially had. As I educated myself, learned the ways of the world and experienced things, I became, more or less, a libertarian. In many ways I have also become an objectivist. Having that stance and knowing what I know, I truly understand why Gordon Gekko was the hero of the story in Wall Street, contrary to what the director himself tried to convey.

Oliver Stone told a very honest story, which is a credit to his skill as a director and it makes me respect him even though he is buddies with Hugo Chávez. Stone’s father was a Wall Street broker, so that was the inspiration for the story and the source material that he witnessed first hand. Stone didn’t pull any punches with Wall Street and, in my opinion; he was fair to both sides of the coin. I really feel that even though you are supposed to leave feeling like Gekko is the villain, the film’s honesty really leaves it open for interpretation despite the director’s real intention: to expose the “evil” of capitalism unleashed.

So why is Gordon Gekko the hero and Bud Fox the villain of the story?

Well, Gekko was only out for one thing, to maintain his wealth and to accumulate more, much more. Bud Fox was the Gekko wannabe who risked everything to be a clone of his initially reluctant mentor. Bud Fox was the son of an airline union boss, so you can see the “moral” dilemma between his roots and where he wanted to be. His father’s emotional speeches about his men and their families were touching and only added to Bud’s moral struggle throughout the film. The liberal union rhetoric, while it seemed moral and truly just and was sold that way by Bud’s father and the film itself, was the small gust that made the whole damn house of cards come tumbling down on everyone and everything Bud touched in the film. Yet the audience, well most of the audience, sided with this sad pathetic parasite who sold out the one man that gave him an opportunity. Hell, it was an opportunity Bud desperately begged for. Bud Fox made his own bed.

Bud was a mess, a conflicted weakling who was unable to see the big picture. He was someone that saw and believed in the hype surrounding Gordon Gekko and desperately wanted to have everything that Gekko created for himself. However, Bud wanted instant gratification. Because of that he abused the rules and put himself out on a limb while Gordon benefited from Bud’s careless hard work and willingness to sell his soul to make it up one more rung on the ladder of success. What Bud was unaware of was that he was climbing the wrong ladder. The ladder he climbed may have been parallel to Gordon’s ladder but they were not one in the same. Gordon’s ladder was steel and strong, Bud’s ladder was like termite infested wood. The only thing to pull Gordon off of his ladder was Bud Fox grabbing him for safety when his shit ladder crumbled beneath the weight of his own baggage.

Bud played crooked and he did so very carelessly, whereas Gordon used the information that Bud freely gave him to tweak his personal investments. Gordon may have used and influenced Bud to go out and get this insider information but there certainly wasn’t a gun to Bud’s head. Bud wanted to do it, pleasing Gordon was his obsession. The reason being that Bud was motivated by intense greed but unlike Gordon, Bud’s greed was aimless and unrestrained. Gordon had a plan, a big plan and his sort of greed is a greed that is calculated, concise and thorough. Gordon was a creator of opportunity for those in his employ and those around him; Bud was a destroyer.

Granted, Gordon admitted to the fact that he creates nothing, instead he owns, but that was a reference to money itself not the empire he built around the transference of wealth, which opened the door of opportunity and success to the hundreds, if not thousands of people that worked for him in one way or another. Gordon created the opportunity that Bud begged for and received. Bud however, took a huge shit on the opportunity and bit the hand that fed him. Bud dug his own hole from the first time he met Gordon and his downfall all stemmed from his own actions, yet he took Gordon Gekko and his empire with him. Well, not really as we found out in the sequel. But Bud certainly had the intention of burning Gekko to shorten his already measly prison sentence.

Now Gordon Gekko is not a pillar of morality by any means, but he is a man that did what almost any of us would have done in his position. Picture yourself as Gordon Gekko. If some energetic already loyal kid came into your office bearing gifts and his blind allegiance to you, wouldn’t you be at least curious at what he had to offer? Now if that nervous kid, trying to win your trust, just happened to volunteer some information, that you didn’t even ask for, about a specific company’s future, wouldn’t you use that as an opportunity to make some extra cash? What’s the difference between acting on facts and acting on a hunch? The difference is, a hunch is legal, magically discovering some inside info gets you jail time. Even if the info was just handed to you and you didn’t ask for it.

I’m not going to argue that insider trading is a victimless crime but there are many things in this world that create victims more easily that aren’t crimes. Besides, is it really a crime? I mean, say that you are invested in a company and a friend who just happens to do their finances comes to you in secret, looking out for your best interest, and warns you that there is no way that the company can survive much longer, are you going to keep your money invested in that company or are you going to pull out and cut your losses before you are too broke to invest what you still have in another opportunity? Sure, people will lose jobs, the company will fall faster and you may face a moral struggle in making this decision but ultimately you are just trying to keep your own ass afloat. Why is this morally frowned upon in our society? Liberal socialist rhetoric has poisoned our judgment. If you have a right to earn a living, you have a right to your money and your own self-interest. The rest of the world is not your responsibility, just as you are not someone else’s responsibility. That’s the stone cold truth and it is time that people wake up to this.

What really set Bud Fox off about Gordon Gekko, was that he felt betrayed. He felt betrayed by Gordon buying and then closing down the airline that Bud’s father was the union boss for. Gordon promised to keep it running and Bud took him at his word. Whatever Gordon’s motivation was doesn’t even matter. The fact is, he saw more opportunity in wrecking the company than allowing it to exist any further. Bud felt conned, duped and used by the one man that he wished was his father while his real father was in a hospital bed post-heart attack broken and defeated by what had happened to his company. In all of Bud’s anger and despair, he just felt sorry for himself and couldn’t see that all of this stemmed from what he had done since his first meeting with Gordon Gekko. It wasn’t until he saw his father in the hospital that he vowed to get revenge.

Bud’s revenge was pointless however. Gordon wasn’t the enemy, if anything he was still the beacon of hope that could’ve kept Bud afloat had he only kept his cool and learned all the lessons that he was being taught throughout the film by Gordon. Bud betrayed himself but it was easier for the weakling to pin that betrayal on Gordon. Bud took it way too personally. Hell, one of the first lessons Gordon gave Bud was that if he wanted a friend to get a dog. Business is business and personal attachments and feelings will only cloud your judgment and affect your bottom line. Bud skipped out on this lesson because he was too busy having fun committing corporate espionage at every turn.

The point is, greed is good! Self-interest is virtuous. Now all you lefties are probably getting pissy about how greed created capitalism and capitalism is the creator of evil corporations and monopolies with unlimited power. I already gave you two primers on how that is just complete bullshit, so wash your mind and free yourself from that twisted logic. You see, because without greed and self-interest, we would have never had the industrial revolution or achieved American Exceptionalism. Greed is what gave us Apple, the light bulb, the automobile, Nintendo, the Internet, television, radio, Starbucks, Target, Baby Gap, electricity, McDonald’s, refrigerators, air conditioning, smartphones, professional sports, American Idol and the ability to get the fuck up in the morning.

You can try to convince yourself otherwise but greed is what motivates you too. We all have greed for something. Keep telling yourself you don’t, you’ve convinced yourself that it’s all been working out just fine for you so far. You might as well stay delusional. Reality is, we all desire profit. Without profit we cannot live. We cannot pay our rent, buy food, buy gas and buy gifts for our loved ones. We’ve got to get the perception out of our head that the words “profit”, “greed” and “money” are evil things. They are great things. That is what Gordon Gekko understood and what Bud Fox could never understand. That is why Gordon Gekko is the hero. His methods may be questionable but those questioning them are typically people who will never be in Mr. Gekko’s shoes. Why?

Because those people carry too much blind bullshit guilt to make that much money and feel good about it.

Instead of saying stupid tired ass slogans like “Money is the root of all evil.” How about telling the truth for once and really drop some knowledge on someone with a slogan like “Money is the root of all opportunity.”