Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf
Runtime: 127 mins
Like Platoon that was released the year before it, I like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street not just for its political and social relevance, but because of its enjoyable simplicity. Platoon examines the Vietnam War by placing Charlie Sheen between good role model Willem Defoe and bad role model Tom Berenger. Wall Street examines 1980s American capitalism by placing Charlie Sheen between good role model Martin Sheen and bad role model Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the fantastically named corporate raider Gordon Gekko, the man that seduces Sheen’s principled young stockbroker with success and excess.
Twenty-three years later, Stone’s sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is just as predictable but twenty-three times as dull. Its hero is principled young trader Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who’s living with the estranged green activist daughter (Carey Mulligan) of Gekko – recently released from prison and promoting his book ‘Is Greed Good?’ – and working for the investment bank of an honourable, ageing mentor (Frank Langella) in 2008. As the financial crisis begins, Zabel’s company is pushed towards collapse in part by rival banker Bretton James (Josh Brolin), whose involvement in Gekko’s own downfall prompts Jake to try and expose James’ misconduct.
Stone’s original grabbed us by asking the ancient question of what happens when you sell your soul to the devil; this is something that LeBeouf’s character would never do, being a person who’s already too good, in both the moral and successful sense, to put money before love. He nonetheless tries, quite badly, to scheme with and against both Gekko and James, before the plot is resolved with some whistle-blowing that could have taken place much earlier, followed by almost all of the characters quite literally hugging and kissing their way out of the recession.
This ensemble, which includes Susan Sarandon and Eli Wallach, is strong in an unimaginative framework. With cameos for Stone, Sheen and one of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s songs from the original, with an expectation that we’re still in awe of Douglas’ character, and with a lack of either indignation or insight, Money Never Sleeps is sycophantic towards its predecessor without substantially continuing its concerns for a new age.