In 1987 Oliver Stone delivered a motion picture that truly captured the bullish attitude of an era with his film Wall Street. The bold and brash film was a cautionary tale that warned against excessive greed and worship of money over authentic human connections. The filmâ€™s opening shot was of the lower Manhattan cityscape, a view that has been dramatically changed in the 23 years since the filmâ€™s release with the iconic twin towers of Wall Street no longer standing. Itâ€™s a riveting opening shot that shows how easily an empire can fall.
Oliver Stoneâ€™s sequel to his classic money masterpiece Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens with quite a different shot: a central character being delivered his belongings while exiting prison. This lazy and clichÃ©d introduction is a screenwriters trick to introduce a character without any direct dialogue and give the audience some background information. It stands as a microcosm of the moments that lack inspiration in Stoneâ€™s film that unlike its predecessor completely misses the mark.
Never has the situation been more ripe for films targeting Wall Street brokers and corporations than the past several years in America so a Wall Street sequelâ€™s timing was perfect. However, the filmâ€™s biggest mistake is that it spends too much time on character and not enough on the larger collapse of the financial markets. Money Never Sleeps is less cautioning and more revisiting with little to offer in terms of analysis along the way.
The filmâ€™s title is lifted from a line uttered by corrupted Wall Street broker Gordon Gekko in the original. In the sequel Gekko (Michael Douglas) is back, returning to society after a decade long prison sentence. The young protÃ©gÃ© this time around is Jake Moore (Shia Labeouf), an idealistic 20-something whose liberal girlfriend, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), operates a non-profit left-wing website. Jake is earning remarkable sums of money at a young age working for a big named brokerage firm not unlike a Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns. Jakeâ€™s mentor commits suicide publicly as the firm is on the brink of collapse and Jake is motivated to find the killer while simultaneously warning other firms against destructive investment behavior.
Gekko takes Jake in as a pupil as a way to get closer to his daughter, Winnie, who has disowned him and the pair works together to take on Bretton James (Josh Brolin) the new wolf of Wall Street. While he struggles to learn if Gekko really is a changed man, Jake is forced to fight against his ability to have a relationship with Winnie and that innate desire to make getting rich his bottom line.
Much like the previous film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps embraces the connection between finance and technology. Several of the montages consist of floating stock tickers and swirling digital money symbols replicating the look of CNBC. However, the rapid flashing bits of information donâ€™t mean anything and are a definitive example of style over substance. They also serve as an example of how this sequel has dumbed itself down for the modern audience â€“ instead of trusting its viewers to know the ins and outs of the financial market, it flashes the symbols carelessly as if to say this is important to the characters, but shouldnâ€™t be to you.
The film is shot with a greater sense of panic than the previous film as evident in the Gordon Gekko monologue. In Wall Street Oliver Stone allowed the camera to linger on Gekko as he delivered his infamous â€œGreed is Goodâ€ speech and the entire speech is heard before any cuts. In Money Never Sleeps Gekko delivers a comparable speech about how Greed is now legal, which features an equal amount of reaction shots and cuts mid-sentence to fast forward to a more interesting part of the speech. The effect is that the scene loses the gravitas of its predecessor and is therefore quickly forgettable.
At 66 years old, Michael Douglas is still able to exude sleaze from every pore with a hair style that matches his charactersâ€™ intentions (the more gel on his head, the less he cares about feelings). Shia Labeouf seems in over his head in this dramatic role and is never completely believable as an assured and sexy character. The biggest waste of talent was Carey Mulligan who is not given anything to do in Allan Loeb and Steven Schiffâ€™s screenplay other than get constantly duped and mistreated by the men in her life.
When comparing Wall Street and Money Never Sleeps side by side it would appear that Stoneâ€™s world view has gotten much more pessimistic and the way he spells things out for his audience seems to imply he finds the world of 2010 a dumber place than 1987.
He may not be completely off.
Bottom Line: The original Wall Street still seems more relevant today than its sequel.