A gentler Gekko
It’s a pleasure to have Gordon Gekko slithering among his lesser capitalists once again, and Michael Douglas — one of those rare movie stars who, with each film in his recent career phase, has grown more and more interesting — turns the domestication of a very famous greed monger into a source of amusement, pathos and genial duplicity.
The movie itself, just OK. But Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, director Oliver Stone’s sequel to his 1987 melodrama, has its satisfactions, thanks mainly to a cast skillful enough to finesse what is effectively two films sharing the same screen. One concerns Gekko’s comeback, after doing time for securities fraud and related crimes. The other is a romance involving a hotshot Wall Street trader played by Shia LaBeouf and his “lefty Web site” lover and fiancée, Gekko’s estranged daughter, played by the formidable British actress Carey Mulligan.
For more than two decades, Stone has professed astonishment at how the original Wall Street turned Gekko into a sleek pop culture symbol, beloved, imitated, one-upped in real life by young bucks messing with other people’s money everywhere. How much of Bud Fox (the original’s Charlie Sheen character, who appears briefly here) do we remember from that film, really? He was little more than a narrative conduit to a seductively oily world. Gekko, thanks to Douglas’ Oscar-winning turn, ruled that world, sucking skulls (or threatening to) all the livelong day.
The mood is different, more rueful in Wall Street 2.
The script by Allan Loeb, rewritten from earlier drafts turned in by Stephen Schiff, begins in October 2001 with Gekko’s release from the pen. No one’s there to pick him up after he collects his effects, which include “one gold money clip with no money in it.”
But he has a gleam in his eye and money-making skills in his bones. His new book, Is Greed Good? makes amends for his former rapaciousness. After a university lecture one day, Jake (LaBeouf) introduces himself as the legendary Gekko’s future son-in-law. Gekko strings him along, feeding Jake valuable, dangerous information regarding enemies of Jake’s mentor, the embattled scion played by Frank Langella. In return, Jake paves the way for Gekko’s reunion with his daughter. Josh Brolin is the snakelike rival investment house guru, one of Gekko’s old adversaries. In Platoon terms, Wall Street 2 presents Jake with a good father figure (Langella), a bad one (Brolin) and the in-betweener with the name like a lizard.
Winnie oversees her progressive muckraking Web site (Frozen Truth), which is alleged to be a “shoe string” organization, although when Stone gives us the establishing shot of the palatial loft filled with extras, it’s like the rebirth of journalism. Why is she hanging around with a Wall Street slicko like Jake? Because he’s an idealist who believes in alternative energy sources and the money they can generate. And he rides a motorbike. And there’s something of her own slippery father in him.
This being a Stone picture, when someone sees something on television she doesn’t like seeing, she doesn’t merely turn off the TV via remote. She throws the remote across the room. Seasoned performers such as Langella and, as Jake’s financially strapped real estate agent mother, Susan Sarandon, tear into their respective scenery-chewing stereotypes as though they haven’t eaten in days. Yet there’s an old-fashioned, slightly cheesy swagger to the picture that carries it to the two-thirds point, at which time the two competing pictures start having serious trouble being in the same frame.
Its success or failure in the marketplace, I suppose, will depend on how audiences will take this new, more “approachable” Gekko. Certainly audiences should respond to the quality of Douglas’ work. He overplays not a single moment, or look, or zinger. Douglas has been in the news lately for his battle with cancer, and that off-camera fact has a way of informing Douglas’ on-camera achievement. I wish the film hadn’t turned Gekko into such a sweetie; the script goes dangerously soft on its most valuable commodity. But a valuable commodity, in this market, can never be underestimated.
—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org