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Wall Street Sequel Shows How Times Have Changed More Than Stayed The Same

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Fox, 2010

When the financial crisis went down in 2008, Oliver Stone began work on a sequel to Wall Street, a movie that was based on the many insider trading scandals of the eighties and arriving the same year (1987) and a mere two months after one of the most famous stock market slides in history, Black Monday.  The original Wall Street is pure eighties nostalgia, where greed and excess is on full display, complete with trademark eighties keyboard tunes, stars unique to their times (e.g., Daryl Hannah), and a big piece of that ever-present theme of the eighties: ambitious young white men getting in over their heads with money, sex, and/or power.

Movies in the eighties were made differently than they are now, although it was a decade inspired by the success of Jaws and Star Wars in the seventies.  The eighties are really no measuring stick for quality films: the ones you can name are likely huge blockbusters and the occasional Amadeus thrown in.  The most adult films of the decade are tremendous bores (like Out of Africa, Ghandi, The Last Emperor) or they’re a movie like Rain Man, a movie posing as adult but containing lots of crowd-pleasing moments teenagers can enjoy.  Oliver Stone made movies back then that were distinguished: Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July were not made for teenagers who sneaked into R-rated movies.

Now we come to this era, where excess has turned into a virtue.  Our top 10 moneymakers of the decade (and by default, of all-time) are filled with some of the most sarcastic, incoherent, and loudest movies imaginable.  Your classic adult movie is now an independent release with a staggered release pattern, because movies in general are aimed for that 18-25 male moviegoer.

So when a movie like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps arrives with a PG-13 rating brandishing the past decade’s unlikely movie star Shia LaBeouf, he of Transformers, Eagle Eye, Disturbia, and the worst Indiana Jones movie any of us could ever think up fame, it’s disconcerting.  The immediate distinction between Wall Street and its sequel is its main star and how the character is mapped out.  Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) was an ambitious broker who blurred the lines of ethics and teetered on the edge of being unlikeable to actually becoming downright detestable towards the end.  Jake Moore (LaBeouf) is a whiz-kid bent on justifiable revenge who never really goes towards that edge, because this era of filmmaking doesn’t want to take the risk.

Wall Street’s antagonist (seen as hero by many) Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, returning to his Oscar-winning role) has just been released from prison.  We find out he’s been in jail for eight years, not actually having anything to do with his dealings with Bud Fox from the first film, which earned him a mere thirteen months.  Gekko looks worn and beaten, his hair a scraggly mess of gray, but enthusiastic, stumping for a book he’s written while in prison and giving seminars.  Jake Moore is intrigued by Gekko, and not just because he’s about to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Moore wants to plot out revenge against a shady businessman named Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who Moore believes began a campaign to discredit his mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), which led to the dissolving of his once-successful company and his suicide.  Moore plans to get a job under James and use him to help fund a company Moore has been trying to help get off the ground that dabbles in fusion.  Honestly, his plan screams of that old South Park episode where the underwear gnomes steal underpants: First, steal underpants.  Second, ?  Third, profits.  In other words, a lot of things have to go right, and a lot of unforeseen things have to come into play, for his revenge to work.  Most of it involves finding out the source of a mysterious “Locust” account that was in play the day Zabel’s company got into trouble.  Moore hopes Gekko can help him with the particulars, while slowly trying to reunite him with his daughter who doesn’t trust him.

Of course there are a couple of twists and turns along the way, but the movie really is all over the place.  The movie doesn’t focus too well and the plots don’t interweave as much as they should.  There are some very good scenes in the movie, and on the whole it isn’t bad, it’s just a bit too long and distracted to be a classic and the dynamics of movies have changed so much it just doesn’t feel like a movie in the same class.  Remember what the first Rocky was like?  Compare it to Rocky III and especially Rocky IVRocky was made at the height of the “last great movie decade” in the seventies, it took its time in telling a simple story, developing its characters, paying off in the end.  Rocky IV was made in the middle of eighties excess, a completely different movie from the original.  The name was the same, but the storytelling had changed dramatically.  The same goes for this new Wall Street.  It’s completely alien to the original.

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