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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

September 25, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

“You’re all pretty well fucked”

There are two reactions to this line in the theater. Most people laugh, like the people in the Fordham auditorium watching fallen wall street icon Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) give his book tour speech in early 2008. Some people realize that this isn’t a joke.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a con movie in the large. Pretty much any movie about stock trading — Trading Places, Boiler Room, the original Wall Street has to be at heart. But at it’s core the movie is built around one five-minute montage of clips from Gekko’s spiel. Oliver Stone’s movies tend to come with messages, and the other two hours of film are window dressing around this one scene.

Unfortunately, Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is sitting in that Fordham auditorium where he ones attended classes, and he never really seems to get it. The closest he comes is a realization that he’s not getting something, when he tells his fiancée — and Gekko’s estranged daughter — Winnie (an underused Carey Mulligan) that “people like us like bedtime stories”. What’s especially frustrating is that Jacob’s mentor Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella at his best for what little time he has) spends the first act trying to tell him the exact same thing. He even has to drill a variation of it into his mother (Susan Sarandon), who left her real job as a nurse to flip real estate.

The message, ultimately, is that the American economy — the financial sector specifically, but everything else that’s become tied to it, is a castle built on sand, and all of us are, as Gekko so eloquently put it, pretty well fucked. The famous housing bubble, and the other bubbles the script makes so big a deal about, are only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that nobody has any idea what the hell is going on anymore, and suddenly everyone knows it. Financial instruments like CDOs aren’t inherently evil, but they implicitly assume a certain amount of information to use safely, and we as a society haven’t had the spine to make certain that information is available.

Why haven’t we? Why are there no teeth in financial market regulations to compel disclosures to prospective clients, be they end investors or other investment banks? Because we fetishize the rich. America is the land where anyone can become rich — or so goes the line in the bedtime story we like to tell ourselves — and so we’re loathe to take any power from the rich because we’re convinced at next year we may be the rich ones.

And this movie actually doesn’t help much on this count. Being rich is glamorous and seductive in the extreme, and Stone shoots it lusciously and stylishly. Not all of his experiments pan out, but enough do that he comes out healthily in the cinematic black. Even a purportedly liberal crusading news-blogger like Winnie can close her eyes to the source of a palatial Manhattan condominium that can sell for four and a half million after the market crashes, and can distract herself from the consequences of such a lifestyle. It’s only when it crystalizes into a half-million dollar diamond engagement ring that she really becomes uncomfortable. And can we really blame her? After all, it’s incredibly nice to be young, white, attractive, and fabulously rich.

But so what else are we to do? Listen to Gekko’s book tour speech (not the rest of what he does) and Zabel’s advice: get out of the game; get a real job; get married; settle down; have a mess of kids; and spend a lot of time with the camera while they’re still young. Get out of the game while you still can, because in the long run it has no winners and a hell of a lot of losers.

Worth it: definitely.
Bechdel test: fail.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hunt permalink
    September 26, 2010 07:29

    Now I’m going to have to see it. I’ve seen the original, as everyone has. From what you describe, I’d have to say that Gekko is wrong in his assessment, at least in the short run. We live in a plutocratic democracy. I won’t go so far as to say that the super-rich control everything, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement, given recent history and the bailouts, that Wall Street has extraordinary influence simply because they hold the cajones of the US economy in their hands, and all they have to do is squeeze to get their way. Amidst the financial turmoil, they still make record profits and dole out record bonuses. How can that possibly be viewed in any other light than as the arrogance of the rulers over the ruled? In the end, the system is probably going to crash, but not before most of the fat cats have lived their lives of luxury using the privileges they have carefully assembled. It is not in their interest to consider those less than themselves. They’ve already self-selected out that possibility. We started to lose control around 1980, the original Wall Street was made in 1987, and now the first-class passengers are flying the plane into the ground. It’s not going to be a soft landing.

  2. Jubayer K permalink
    January 21, 2011 17:02

    Jesus, I can tell ya one thing. YOU should have directed this movie rather than Stone. Coz your review sure as $h¬t would have entertained me far more than this 2-and-something hour snooze-fest. Not only was the shooting completely out-of-place and like a late 90s action movie, the film totally ignores the character, feel and (seemingly) even the lessons/morals of the first. What the hell was that? Rolling out Bud Fox and conducting a complete character assasination on his @$$. It was cringeworthy. The script was terrible ( “You look for birds… (*whistle*)…you’re gonna find birds”—> okie dokie). Which lends itself to another point; WTF was it with Señor Wallach and his nasal tunes? I mean was that ad-libbing to the point of dementia? Sad that even someone so well-respected in the industry comes out like a complete wally. I’m amazed you found such layered depth in a movie that belonged on the Cartoon Network. I simply assumed Oliver Stone assembled a team of writers, locked them in a room and gave them PCP. Even the title “Money Never Sleeps” is just lazy pandering to the original. They used the ghost of Gordon Gekko to string another movie with Indiana Jones son to turn a profit – no matter what damage is done to the director’s long-term legacy. Oliver Stone has truly lost the plot. Lazy writing, terrible direction, and awful use of soundtrack (I would say “awful soundtrack”, but it’s never really been Stone’s forte). I normally enjoy your reviews. I enjoyed this one too. Unfortunately, the movie just couldn’t live up to it.

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