Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps *** (out of ****)

Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach
Rating: PG-13 (brief strong language and thematic elements)
Running Time: 133 min
Release Date: 9/24/10

The insider trading scandals of the mid-1980s inspired Oliver Stones classic Wall Street and so it should be no surprise that the current mortgage induced economic recession would inspire a sequel. One might have expected a scathing leftwing attack on Wall Street blaming them for everything. Or, perhaps Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) would have moved from the world of leverage buyout and insider trades to credit default swaps. But, this film is not quite that and shows a considerable growth in Oliver Stone’s world view.

We start with Gekko leaving prison after severing a very longs sentence for his misdeeds. There is an allusion to the previous film as Gekko is given his personal possessions and walls out the prison gates where a limousine is waiting not for him but rather or a drug kingpin. The world has changed and the story revolves to a great extent on the relationship between young upcoming Wall Streeter Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) and Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Cary Mulligan).

While Jack in some sense has the Bud Fox role, he is not nearly as hungry and in general is a more sympathetic character. Winnie has become estranged from her father and wants nothing to do with him or a certain Swiss bank account that will plan key role in the plot. Gekko for his part has written a book, “Is Greed Good?” It is during an appearance to promote this book that Gekko and Jack cross paths. After being told of Jack’s plans to marry his daughter, Gekko becomes interested in using Jack as a bridge to make amends with Winnie.

However, money fans, the whole show isn’t a touchy feely soap opera. The money plot is set against the looming financial crisis of 2008. Jack’s beloved mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), is an old Street hand who is CEO of a firm similar to Lehman. While I don’t side with the screaming Anti-Wall Street outraged-at-the-bonuses crowd, it seems to me that Frank Zabel is a far more sympathetic character than his counter parts were in real life. A rival firm lead by Bretton James (Jeff Bolin) has put out rumors of Jack’s firms insolvency and is heavily shorting the stock from an offshore hedge fund. This ultimately forces Frank Zabel to sell his firm for a pittance. Zabel’s subsequent suicide motivates Jeff into a revenge plot that impresses James.

One notable theme which caught my attention because it goes against the typical liberal Hollywood view is the film’s treatment of the “green energy” issue. One of Jeff’s core projects is his support for United Fusion Corporation. It is urgently in need of $100 million in venture capital to continue its work developing this ultimate energy source. Jack’s management is more interested in traditional sources, i.e., oil. Surprisingly, solar energy is being supported by the energy companies as their preferred energy alternative because they know it won’t be able to compete with coal and oil. As an aside this is a possibility the viewer should consider carefully in there think about the energy issue.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps lacks some of the energy of the original film. But, I must give it credit for not becoming populist diatribe. The ultimately it shows that the reason we are in current financial crisis is not just the Wall Streeter’s greed but rather everyone’s. There would never have been the mortgage crisis if so many people hadn’t taken out loans that they couldn’t afford, if individual mortgage brokers hadn’t lied, and if politicians and regulators had shown some better judgment in letting this go on year after year, and if the public would have been rightly predicted to turn on any politicians that had tried to prevent it.


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