After 20 years of declining to make a sequel to “Wall Street,” Oliver Stone finally gave in when the markets crashed in 2008. The result, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” continues the story of the memorable villain, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who after eight years in jail makes a comeback to the financial world. With no license or support to return to Wall Street, he publishes a book with quite a familiar title, “Greed Is Good.” On the other hand, we have a young, yet successful, broker, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who is an unorthodox Wall Street type — idealistic and with a lot of integrity. The problems start when the hedge fund he works for goes bankrupt. In search of new opportunities, Jake gets in touch with Gekko, who also happens to be the father of his fiancée (Carey Mulligan).
The most important backdrop to the film is the 2008 market crash. But instead of explanations for the crisis or stories about Americans losing their houses, the audience sees the film from the angle of a Wall Street broker. Stone chooses to present the recent economic recession from the Wall Street insider’s perspective, giving those commonly viewed as corporate evildoers new agency as protagonists. Perhaps this decision was motivated by Stone’s relationship with his father, who used to work on Wall Street, and script co-writer, Allan Loeb, a licensed broker. It would have been easier to present the stories of average Americans who lost everything they had because of the crash. But that would not have challenged the director or the audience.
But does the film really offer a critique of Wall Street? It would be naïve to assume that the character of Jake represents the new breed of stockbrokers. While Gekko and his associates created the crooked financial system, younger generations aggravated it. Even though Jake is a victim of the crisis, making him worthy of the audience’s empathy, his character feels more like an anti-villain, balancing out Gekko’s manipulative personality, than a genuine hero.
The strong cast drives the film. The cigar-smoking, greed-preaching Gordon Gekko is now synonymous with Michael Douglas. Apart from him, we have a great group of actors embodying Wall Street players, including Josh Brolin and film and stage veteran Frank Langella and the comic method actor, Eli Wallach. And finally there is Douglas’ counterpart, Shia LaBeouf, who quite astutely manages to keep up with the villain of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
While the film has its flaws, it is really refreshing to see Stone in such good shape. He gets back to reflecting on what is happening in his own society (“Platoon”), rather returning to ancient times. While anything’s better than the director’s “Alexander,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is far from mediocre.