Seemingly prescient with the aftershocks of the global financial meltdown still rippling, Oliver Stone returns to the world of Wall Street to cast another caustic eye on capitalism. The fact that Michael Douglas’ odious Gordon Gekko was seen as a hero by the very generation who caused the crash adds an ironic edge. However Stone has fallen into a similar trap by presenting Gekko as a de facto hero.
Former Wall Street trader Gordon Gekko (Douglas) returns from several years in prison, hoping to make peace with estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). She is in a relationship with a young trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who joins with Gekko to get revenge on the financial oligarch Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who was responsible for the death of his mentor.
In recent years Oliver Stone may have struggled to replicate the nadir of his 80’s masterpieces when he gave us Platoon, Salvador and the original Wall Street, but the fact that he is able to assemble such a heavyweight cast demonstrates the high esteem he is still held in. It is the superb performances that just about hold the film together.
Douglas has removed the veneer of Gekko’s utter unscrupulousness but this aged model is both haggard and yet still capable of running rings round LaBeouf’s idealistic Jake. The Transformers star meanwhile shows that we shouldn’t give up him turning into a good actor, while current squeeze Mulligan proves why she has earned so many plaudits as a daughter trying to forgive but not wanting to get sucked into her father’s web of deceit. With Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella adding supporting turns, you have a high class cast hitting all the right notes.
However the narrative is bankrupt. Despite dealing with possible economic catastrophe, the story fails to engage. Flabby and overstretched, much like Stone’s waistline, it fails to connect all the elements. Stone keeps his hyper kinetic style mostly in check but perhaps should have unleashed it more to increase the tempo on this painfully slow journey into the heart of money madness.
And where has his righteous indignation gone to? In the original Wall Street, none of the major characters came out smelling of roses. Here we come close to happy families, even while unseen millions face mortgage and debt crises. The soundtrack by Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Brian Eno only adds to the film’s often uneven feel.
Money is presented as the root of all evil, corrupting both mind and body, but only when Stone sees fit. As the action moves to a five figure invite charity auction, he takes delight in the rogue’s gallery of expensive facelifts on display. Yet he has no problem including a scene where Jake and Bretton race each other on expensive motorcycles, just to add some character tension.
Maybe the lesson to be learnt is that greed is good but the gluttonous quest for more money is, well a little dull.