22 October 2010

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Urban: Another Oliver Stone piece about the recent past, the acting is good, the directing misses the mark, and the story is good, but simply too long.

Oliver Stone returns to his seminal character, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), in order to trace the events involved in the recession of 2008. As Gekko emerges from prison he attempts to re-unite with his daughter and rebuild his financial empire in a land where many of the old rules don't apply.

Urban: This is a pretty good film. Whatever else I may say, this is something that you should watch, and should enjoy/think about. The events and themes that tell the story behind the 2008 recession are fully on display in all their tawdry glory.

At the same time, this film really misses the mark by attempting to make the story fuller. While this may seem odd, most Stone films tend to be preachy. In this one, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is the same character as Bud Fox in the original Wall Street, in the same way that he is also Chris Taylor from Platoon. In Stone's moral universe, everyone has two father figures as options. In this film, Gordon Gekko competes with Bretton James (Josh Brolin) as the right to guide Moore (and by metaphorical extension the American public) out of the recession. Taking time to develop both of these options moves the viewer to highs and lows, but mostly includes lows (just like the economy) because both options are pretty lousy.

Instead of developing the downward spiral to its fullest extent, Stone attempts to build a story of hope (Obama?) into this film. However, from the vantage point of the viewer, this story isn't finished and to many, the hope that may have reached it's epoch when things were still at their darkest during the 2008 presidential election hasn't delivered relief for very many. Stone went too far with this story considering the recent history of this event. Having Gekko reform, return the money to the green power initiative, and letting Moore reunite with his fiance; as well as allowing justice to have it's way with James just wraps things up way too neatly for anyone to feel good about this happy ending.

Artistically, this film has some good moments. The shots that occur organically within the storyline - the busy trading floor, Miss Moore showing a gaudy (empty) mini-mansion, the deathly seriousness of the major banks around the table negotiating for their lives, and Gekko lording over his empire sitting behind his massive desk with hands folded. These shots are well-put together and effectively communicate the mood of the film and please us by meeting our expectations. The film does a decent job of maintaining continuity by showing the peaks and valleys of the market imposed upon the New York City skyline. It also comes close to achieving symmetry by including two different instances of voice-over from LaBouef that do a tremendous job of explaining the larger consequences of entire groups playing out the morality play by our characters.

In another way though, Stone tries to go beyond our expectations by adding a number of stylish shots that all disappoint. Of these overreaches, very few compare to the miss-step in the opening credits when the look at the New York City streets attempts to climb a building and enter a board-room meeting. The CGI is apparent and looks very amateurish. Throughout the film, small attempts to do things like this really mar the finish of what would have been a pretty decent looking movie. The most unforgivable offense though, is extending the movie beyond the final voiceover from LaBeouf. This second instance occurs right after Gekko has turned back to the dark side, betraying his friends and family, and perfectly hits the tone of our nation at the time. Instead, Stone fits poor form onto poor content when he tries to give this sad story a happy ending.

1 comment:

  1. I think you nailed it. I could harp on how the film doesn't make any sense in so many ways, but the worst part was the ending by far.

    I honestly think it wasn't driven by the desire to make a feel-good ending. I think (I know) from reading Stone's afterthoughts on Wall Street (I) that he hated the fact that the movie served as inspiration for so many kids to go to Wall Street. I think the ending was his way of killing Gekko, however not letting him be a martyr.

    If the film ends with him sacrificing his family for his career, so many lonely men on Wall Street identify and feel vindicated by the result. They took have destroyed many a marriage by working too many hours. They see and respect the cost it takes to be the best.

    Instead, he tries to brow-beat a morality lesson in choices into a pack of wolves. Gekko is no longer Gekko to me after watching that film.

    Wall Street II: Stone's Revenge.