Sunday 14 July 2019

Movie Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

A sequel to the classic 1987 financial drama, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a competent continuation of the story without ever rising to the same heights.

In 2001 Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from prison after serving eight years for fraudulent financial activities. By 2008 he is living a quiet life, promoting his book and predicting an economic disaster to come. Ambitious securities trader Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is in love with Gordon's daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who is not on speaking terms with her father. Jacob works for Keller Zabel Investments, a firm being shaken by the early rumblings of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Rival Bretton James (Josh Brolin) of the firm Churchill Schwartz senses weakness and ends the career of Jacob's boss and mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Bretton and Gordon share a chequered history, creating an opportunity for Gordon and Jacob to team up against a common foe. In return for Gordon supplying Jacob with information about Bretton's unethical trading conduct, Jacob tries to arrange a reconciliation between Gordon and Winnie. But with the entire financial market system on the verge of collapse, personal agendas may be sideswiped by bigger events.

With the 2008 Great Recession providing a seemingly ideal backdrop, director Oliver Stone returns to the world of greed, backstabbing and unimaginable wealth among the movers and shakers at the epicentre of capitalism. Money Never Sleeps is glitzy and visually hyperkinetic, featuring rushed plot developments, the occasional dizzy torrent of characters and names, and an abundance of split screens superimposed with rapidly changing numbers, charts, and artistic silhouettes.

But for all the moving and shaking, the reality of the financial crisis is more astounding than any fictional story conjured up by co-writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff. Here the script goes searching for memorable moments to rival the Greed is Good speech from the first film, but instead settles for a routine tale of revenge, comebacks, father-daughter tension and an unconvincing romance. Freshness and originality are sorely lacking, and even the ending reaches for sappy when a more biting resolution was available.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko is by far the best thing on display, and the film suffers mightily when he is off-screen. Neither Josh Brolin as the designated new villain nor Shia LaBeouf as the feisty newcomer have the charisma or sparkle to engage, and they are ill served by predictable and bland dialogue exchanges.

The romance between Jacob and Winnie is the weakest part of the film, as they spend most of the time arguing. Carey Mulligan cannot overcome her character's repeated internal inconsistencies, starting with why a woman with left-leaning politics and disgusted by her father's profession would fall for a slick Wall Street guy.

The cast is deep in underutilized talent, including Eli Wallach in his last feature film as a Wall Street veteran and Susan Sarandon as Jacob's mother, overextended on real estate speculation. Charlie Sheen makes a one-scene appearance as Bud Fox, and Sylvia Miles has an equally brief role as a realtor. The soundtrack is an audacious but ultimate incongruous and unsuitable selection of songs written and performed by David Byrne and Brian Eno.

Money Never Sleeps offers a nod to emerging technologies and the fledgling field of alternative energy sources, and a few strong and tense scenes are staged at the Federal Reserve as the most powerful bankers in the country grapple with the meltdown of their entire industry. But while the subject matter is always reasonably engrossing due to the inherent corruption, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps uses gilded packaging to cover up distinctly familiar fundamentals.

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