Monday, September 27, 2010

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - Directed by Oliver Stone, written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, starring Michael Douglas, Shia LeBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, and Frank Langella - Rated PG-13

"Stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you." Unfortunately, this is the only decent line I can remember from the film.

The original Wall Street was a look at an era of excess. If you look back at that film about the deceitful Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and upstart Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) you get a real sense of the world of Wall Street in the 1980s. It wasn’t just about how the stock market operated; it was also about the 80s in general. Just watch the sequence when Bud buys an apartment; a Talking Heads song plays as we see so much excess it’s almost funny.

I mention all of this because the sense of a world is missing from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I never got the sense that the new young upstart, Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf), was entering a new world. Another aspect missing from this new Wall Street was good dialogue. The original is an insanely quotable film that is filled with amusing insults and witty remarks concerning the financial world. There’s a line here and there that sticks out in this film, but no one will be quoting this in the future.

Wall Street: MNS was a bit of a letdown for me because it lacked focus and just didn’t know what it wanted to be. It gets off to a good start, though. In fact, the beginning is almost like its own little short film featuring a very effective performance by Frank Langella. As I said, there are not many good lines of dialogue in the film, but Langella transcends that problem with his booming voice. Unfortunately, Langella isn’t in the film very long.

After Langella’s exit, the film’s real story begins. Jacob Moore decides to deliver some payback to the man who forced Langella out of his investment firm, Bretton James (Josh Brolin). To do that, he enlists the help of Gordon Gekko, who has reemerged in the financial world after a jail stint and a new book. Gekko is willing to help Jacob as long as Jacob attempts to reconcile him with his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who is engaged to Jacob. That’s all interesting but only because it’s unexpected. Seeing Gekko as an actual human being rather than a greedy scumbag was new, but the new Gekko is just kind of pathetic.

The revenge subplot was interesting and in keeping with the original’s tone, but there wasn’t enough actual Wall Street action. I know some people might be put off by financial babble, but that belongs in a film about Wall Street. Money Never Sleeps played more like a family drama that happens to involve players in Wall Street.

That said, the few scenes that involve finance are all great. Brolin has some nice moments (in many ways, he is the Gordon Gekko of this film) and his interactions with Douglas and Langella are entertaining.

Brolin and Langella impressed me the most, but there’s not really a weak performance in the film. Shia LeBeouf actually stands up against all of the heavy hitters; I only found him weak in a few of the sappier scenes with Mulligan. Mulligan does a decent job, but all she really gets to do is act sad throughout. Susan Sarandon is okay as Jacob’s hectic mother, but I was mainly just wondering what she was doing in the film. And Michael Douglas gets right back into Gekko mode quite easily. Of course, he’s played a lot of characters similar to Gekko over the years, but he’s still charismatic and fun to watch.

The acting was all there, but the story wasn’t. I have to blame the majority of this film on Oliver Stone. True, he didn’t write the screenplay for this one, but that’s the point. How can Stone direct a sequel to one of his own screenplays and not write it himself? That’s why the great dialogue was missing and I’m assuming that’s why this was more of a Lifetime Original movie than a Wall Street movie. If you disagree with me on the Lifetime jab, just watch the last fifteen minutes of this film and tell me that that isn’t a weak and sappy ending.

Stone’s biggest influence was his decision to not write the film, but he still tries to add a little something in the form of strange and out of place split screen sequences, dissolves and wipes, and visual aids for sequences about how communication travels and how fusion energy works. I could’ve done without all of it; however it wasn’t distracting or detrimental to the film, just kind of pointless.

Wall Street does offer quite a few references for fans of the original. I won’t say who shows up, but there are some amusing cameos. There are a lot of David Byrne songs (“This Is the Place” by Talking Heads even plays over the credits), but none of the new music sticks out like the original’s soundtrack.

The biggest fan service, though, is the fact that Gordon Gekko is in it. Sure, he’s a tame and sad Gekko, but he’s still very watchable. It’s unfortunate that the film lacked focus and Stone didn’t write it. It doesn’t ruin the original (though some will believe it did). All it really did was make me realize how much I loved the original, and that’s not all that bad.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Okay, that ending was ridiculous. Suddenly Gordon Gekko has a heart? Screw that. If there's a film character that I never want to see change in, it's Gekko. Also, what exactly did he really do that makes Winnie change her mind? It all seemed forced and way too sentimental.

Langella's death scene was easily the most moving scene in the film.

The bailout scene was pretty great. Even before Eli Wallach mentioned the end of the world, I was thinking that the scene could easily have been put into an "end of the world" movie and you would barely have to change the dialogue.

By the way, what was with Wallach in this film? It's cool to see such an old timer still acting, but I didn't understand the whistling thing he kept doing...just seemed a bit weird.

Charlie Sheen's appearance as Bud Fox was kind of amusing, but the more I thought about it the more I hated it. He basically showed up to show that he turned into successful scumbag and learned nothing. Actually, it was Sheen playing himself. Weak.

I enjoyed Michael Douglas as Gekko in the last act of the know, when he gets to be old school Gekko. The previews set up Gekko to be like that the entire film...if only it was true. It was a good ten minutes or so, though.

Finally, for the record, I hate that "Money Never Sleeps" subtitle. Couldn't that have gone with "The Bailout" or "The Collapse" or "Too Big to Fail" or something? Hell, how about just putting a "2" at the end of the title and being done with it?

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