Below is the unedited copy of the review published in iMAGES on Sunday, Sunday November 14, 2010 in our film review column Animadversion. The links to the published version can be found at the end of this blog post.
Greed is Good – Apparently
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, might be one of the feeblest and obvious titles to appendage a movie sequel, but behind it hides one of the sharpest, flamboyant, old-Hollywood styled films of 2010. The film begins roughly ten years ago at the release of a toned-down Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas – who won an Academy award for his conniving, best bad-guy for the first “Wall Street” in ’87 – whose personal belongings include one ring, one gold money clip (sans any money), and one dinosaur-age walky-talky like mobile phone.
Later Gordon, in front of a packed crowd of enthusiastic business students and Wall Street wannabee’s, recalls the perplexity of our credit-inflicted life. “Somebody reminded that I once said ‘greed is good’. Now it seems it’s legal”, he says.
Greed is what “makes my bartender buy three houses he can’t afford with no money down”, he continues. “Its greed that makes your parents refinance their $200,000 house for $250,000 and (then) they take that extra $50,000 and go down the mall. They buy a plasma TV, cell phones, computers, SUV, and hey, why not a second home. We know that prices of homes in America always go up”. The scene and the carefully intended tone scribed by Allen Loeb and Stephen Schiff bluntly speak about the current evolution of our generation. We’re screwed, he sighs.
“Wall Street 2” is maneuvered with skillful old-school precision by director Oliver Stone, who intelligently, and at times easily, bypasses the tension of scrambling together a potential sequel. His formula and elements are acute and simple. Perhaps too simple, as he runs two separate, intertwining ideas in a single film. “Wall Street 2” is a revenge thriller intermixed with a story about redemption. Or is it.
Gekko is still gifted with his experience in money and he does the best thing a once-mogul-now-out-of-jail guy does. He writes a bestseller titled “Greed is Good”. Naturally, good money starts rolling in.
Now, Gekko is hesitant about re-entering the Street’s hardnosed politics. Yet, he is subsequently “traded” a deal by the young, hot-blooded Jake Moore, Shia LeBeouf, a trading genius who works for Keller Zebel, an old-line institution run by father-figure Louis Zebel – Frank Langella – who’s getting too old for the drivel the market has become . “I am a dinosaur”, Zebel exclaims.
Mr. Langella first, and then Mr. Douglas step in as pseudo-father roles that ran the first “Wall Street”. But since we’re past the first decade of the second millennium, our youngsters don’t need supervisors (that much) and their souls are already adjusted to the aggression of present day business. Today the aggression doesn’t really clash with being a nice guy.
A.O. Scott elaborates in his review that “The story lines that worked in the first “Wall Street” no longer seem available. There is no real struggle for the young man’s soul, since Jake’s business aggression is never really at odds with his niceness”
After all, everyone is good these days. The only villain is the greed and quite possibly Mr. Stone’s last screen collaborator Josh Brolin (George Bush Jr. in the muted “W”), a newer, smoother, Wall Street scoundrel than what Gekko once was.
So for most of the movie Mr. Douglas’ Gekko becomes an on-call, step-in dad, who also wants to be good for his estranged daughter again. The daughter (Winnie, played by Carey Mulligan) is, conveniently, Jake’s girlfriend; a sensible, docile, independent woman who writes for a leftist website and abhors money and Wall Street.
This strand cleanly tie into the narrative that fine-tunes into financial upheavals of Dow Jones that happened in 2008 – the time frame the film settles into.
This is Mr. Stone’s masterpiece of classic movie making that’s dabbled in today’s ease of blinking special effects. For example, Mr. Stone uses an animated frequency chart that outlines the London Bridge as a passive transition point to introduce the market status in the screenplay. Like the chart, the film occasionally dips into melodrama, but Mr. Stone’s paced-up storytelling and perfect casting sift through petty discrepancies like this. What’s a little melodramatic dip compared to the high-flying drama anyways?!
Running to 130 minutes, “Wall Street 2” is exuberant and squiggly clean, (the cinematography is by Rodrigo Prieto) with spot-on cues for David Byrne’s songs – a persistent fact that swivels the film back to the 80’s, a time when movies didn’t depend on big-screen blasts (well, some did) and their ultimate weapons were the words on the paper and the brains of the characters.
“Wall Street 2” is rated PG-13. The only real villain here is the obscene amount of money traded that isn’t even shown on screen. Plastic and computers have taken care of that pickle.
By Farheen Jawaid
Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko the smooth, slithering, money magnet of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” from 1987. But he has fallen from grace, and after a stint in prison, gone a little soft. But as many immortal silver-screen icons will testify, time hasn’t bit his tongue or dimmed his eyes. As he points out to a young Jake Moore – Shia LeBeouf – “A fisherman, always sees other fisherman from far”.
Mr. LeBeouf is not a step-in for Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox. He’s a breed of the newer generation: more confident, more mature. He’s a little hot-headed egoistic. But he’s also a good, decent, guy – something Mr. LeBeouf always has been in movies. In “Wall Street 2”, Mr. Stone grounds Mr.LeBouf in non-fiction seriousness (suffice to say he’s only getting pegged down by dipping financial numbers and not rolling boulders, quicksand’s, transforming robots or automated drones).
Jake is the fast-rising stock trader and idealistic supporter of alternative energy projects which no one wants to hear about. He is also the boyfriend of Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulliganand). It is as much about Jake as it is about Gekko or his daughter Winnie.
And it is about the light and entertaining look at present day money game and the moral dilemma that walk side by side with the characters. Unlike other motion pictures, “Wall Street 2” is never in your face, nor is it so over powering that it hijacks other elements of the film like “greed”, which as Gekko puts it “is legal now”.
As it happens, everyone now knows, my default programming, that “Greed is Good” – which incidentally is the title of the book Gekko writes when he comes out of jail, penniless.
One look at the timely abstract transitions and blinking Dow Jones figures that cover the Gotham skyline (part of the cut-special effects Mr. Stone uses kinetically in the film) and you know that Mr. Stone has created a miniature masterpiece with all the traits of classic Hollywood fables. “Wall Street 2” is idealistic in nature, and so Mr. Stone softens the film’s blows by telling a realistic, concrete story, rather than just wagging the finger or being angry (after all there are $70 million in production budget at stake here, one cannot afford being angry).
The published version can be found at: