Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010)


Not a full-length review on this one – I just wanted to catch the sequel to Wall Street (not part of the 75th Anniversary Collection), which I never saw, while the original was still fresh in my mind. It certainly helped: now that I’m more fluent in financial lingo (at least of the movies), I could better understand the events and actions with which Oliver Stone’s follow-up concerns itself.

But of course, I didn’t need a crash-course in economics to appreciate the return of Gordon Gecko, by now an archetypal character, and seeing him played by Michael Douglas, 23 years later, was a thrill that makes Wall Street 2 worth watching, even if it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

In 2008, Gordon Gecko has just been released from prison. Insider trading, sure, but he got the most time – eight years – for far more nefarious dealings, busted by a now-wildly successful investor, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), the head of a firm named Churchill Schwartz. When he decides to crush a rival firm, Keller Zabel, by spreading false rumors about toxic debt, its director, Louis Zabel (Fank Langella) commits suicide. One of Zabel’s investors, a young upstart named Jake Moore (Shia LeBouf), takes the especially hard: he’d always been a protégée to Louis, and now he’s looking to get back at the one responsible.

Enter Gecko, now revealed as the father of Jake’s fiancé, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Gecko and Winnie’s relationship is strained, to say the least: he blames her for not meeting him after jail and she blames him for her brother’s drug overdose death. But Jake arranges a deal – he’ll help repair their relations if Gecko can help him bring Bretton down. Jake does indeed get the word out on the firm’s illegal oil holdings, resulting in a 120 million dollar loss, but rather than fume Bretton offers the boy a job, which he takes, hoping in part to use his leverage to persuade the Chinese to invest in his pet project of alternative energy.

But then – the Crash of 2008 – and Bretton nixes the Chinese deal, firing Jake in the process. It looks as though Gecko will pony up the money, but he reneges last minute, flees to England and sets up a hedge-fund business. Meanwhile, Jake gets the skinny on Bretton’s double-dealings, exposes them on Winnie’s website, and costs the tycoon any chance of a government bailout. Gecko reconsiders his actions and wires his future son-in-law the money, reconciling with his daughter (the mother of his grandchild) in the process.

Wall Street 2 is a perfectly serviceable sequel. It brings back Douglas as Gecko, and the fact that the actor was battling cancer at the time just makes his effort that much more admirable. He delivers a speech early on that resembles his classic “Greed is Good” oration from the original, and it reflects the same, albeit for the post-Recession times. “It seems that now, not only is greed good, but it’s also illegal.”

But he delivers the speech somewhat ironically, and that’s because Gecko is now a reformed man. Sure, he still knows how to play the market, and his thirst for the good life is quite very much intact, but he plays it cool these days, prefeering to watch and analyze the market rather than participate in it. And he’s even written a book about it, somewhat of a cautionary tome, presumably to exhort others not to make the same mistakes he did. In fact, aside from one third-act plot twist, Gecko is, for al intents and purposes, a nice guy.

Perhaps that may be what the man should do, but it also robs Wall Street 2 of its theme. The original was not simply a rollicking financial drama, but it had something vita to say – that modern businesses are now being run, and destroyed, by profiteering investors and shareholders, who care not a thing about their holdings, and would sell everything right away if they had to. The pint was so vtal, in fact, that it was prescient. That same year was the Crash of 1987, and then later the Internet Bubble of 2000, and still later…

The surrogate baddie this time is James Brolin, but his takedown isn’t nearly as satisfying as Gecko’s was in the original. And also, Jake, an alt-energy idealist, doesn’t quite seem credible as a trader. Why is he one? I suppose one could argue he needs the money for his Fusion project, but aren’t there other ways short of selling your soul? And again, we don’t get really get the theme of high-level corruption, and perhaps one reason is the absence of a Martin Sheen character, who represents he nuts-and-bolts, albeit less glamorous, side of things.

But still, even though Wall Street 2’s language gets a bit thick (it doesn’t explain things in quite the same, engaging way as the original), it’s still good to see this character again, and even director Stone uses some restraint from his usual indulgences to tell the story. (Oh, and don’t miss the Charlie Sheen cameo, reprising Bud Fox; this scene alone is worth the price of admission.)

No, it’s not a necessary sequel, but it is entertaining, and it doesn’t diminish the original in any way. For those reasons alone, I can recommend it.

Rating:  ***

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