Sunday, 17 October 2010

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2010) - 4 STARS

"Greed is back"


At the moment I've been going through a Michael Douglas phase watching some of his best films notably FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and FALLING DOWN (1994) which have added to the composure of the man in his acting vicinity. However I did watch his best performance in the money-making drama WALL STREET (1986) which allowed him to play his infamous character Gordon Gekko with such venom and deceitfulness that earned him the Best Actor Oscar. Now 24 years later, Douglas reprises his role as Gekko in the long-awaited sequel MONEY NEVER SLEEPS which sees him reunite with Oliver Stone (the director) and make a worthy installment which in some ways is as good as the original.


The film opens with notorious businessman Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) being released from prison after serving time for his crime in the first one. However the focus shines on upcoming hotshot Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) who works in Wall Street similarly to Charlie Sheen's character Bud Fox from the first film but he is determined to ensure his investment firm doesn't go under but his mentor, Louis (Frank Langella), is making some bad decisions for their firm. But when Louis ends up having to sell his share of the firm to arrogant investor Bretton James (Josh Brolin) for a very small price, he commits suicide much to Jake's devastation. He is comforted by his activist fiancee Winnie (Carey Mulligan) who happens to be Gekko's daughter but is estranged from her father. She tries to help Jake recover from his loss but soon he switches his attention to Gekko, firstly by watching him in a lecture and then seeking advice from him about rebuilding his firm. Gordon though wants to be reunited with Winnie who is reluctant to see her father again but Jake is determined to learn more from Gordon especially when he is hired by Bretton to orchestrate his own firm but clearly the young rookie plans to make him suffer for what happened to Louis. But the question is has prison helped Gordon or is he plotting something sinister to bring himself back on top of the game?


It is rare for a sequel 24 years after the original not only advancing its story but also having something new to say. Director Oliver Stone has changed the pace of the film from the original as he takes his time to paint his modern pictures of high society. People are no longer wearing power ties and having lavish lunches. We are going green and eating less red meat. Stone understood the dynamic shift in the culture on Wall Street and captured that change on film which is what he does well with the sequel. Using relevant editing techniques like the "split-screen" effect to emphasize on the hurried interaction among stock traders and brokers, Stone succeeds to a certain extent in depicting the frenzied drama of phone-calling, and "time is money" mentality that personalize these people. The return of Michael Douglas to the role that garnered him an Oscar was always going to gain the majority of anticipation and he doesn't disappoint. He portrays the supposedly rehabilitated Gekko as a man who is just as self-antagonizing as he was two decades ago, but now has the new found characteristic of subtlety. La Beouf nicely balances his character's idealism and shrewdness with angst and proves that he isn't a franchise ruining actor, there is dramatic potential in the man. Brolin adds slickness and deceit proving to be like Gekko in the first film while Frank Langella and Eli Wallach also give stellar supporting roles.


Unfortunately for Carey Mulligan, her Winnie role isn't all that fleshed out, being just the romantic lead opposite Shia (a real-life relationship) and her reconciliatory difficulties with her dad but shows her potential as a future British star in Hollywood (a'la Keira Knightley) while Susan Sarandon is rather wasted in the film too. The film also fails to get a message across in relation to the global financial crisis and all it offers are a couple of brief scenes where the big banks get together and discuss a bail out policy with the U.S. treasury. So does the sentimentality of the film which detracts the reason why the first film was so cunning with Gordon's humane side being demonstrated a lot more here with the writers going for a safer, more commercial option especially in the final ten minutes. There are some clever references to the first film from the reappearance of Gordon's mobile phone to Sylvia Miles's brief cameo as Gordon's former receptionist but Charlie Sheen's cameo is a little disappointing for some as if to say it was played too "let's-make-a-funny-reference-to-the-first-film" instead of a serious attempt at a dramatic moment. But still it's good to see him pop up in it. To conclude, this is a revenge and redemption movie with Wall Street and market crash as a backdrop. Douglas certainly is back with a vengeance and this is a sequel that deserves as much credit as the original: greed certainly is back!

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