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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Greed is Good?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Michael Douglas brought to life one of the most memorable screen villains of the 1980s with his turn as Wall Street shark Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

Gekko’s “greed is good” mentality would ultimately land him in prison for insider trading. Twenty years later, Gekko is released from the clink with an empty money clip, an obsolete cell phone, and an economy teetering on the brink of apocalypse. Gekko is a man seeking redemption in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Douglas was narcissistically compelling in his first turn as Gekko and in this sequel, we see a man who is arguably softer, but no less compelling and no less of a shark. Gekko lost millions, but more damaging was the loss of his family. Gekko’s emotional baggage includes an ex-wife, a dead son, and an estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

As it so happens, Winnie happens to be dating a hotshot, young Wall Street trader, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) who has a serious hard on for Gordon Gekko. Despite Winnie’s warnings about her father, Jake develops a relationship with the “reformed” Gekko. Jake appears to have a soul, but certainly isn’t above making a few bucks and if anyone can help his cause, it’s Gekko.

But, Gekko’s tutelage comes with a price and Jake must help facilitate Gekko’s attempts at reconciliation with his daughter despite Winnie’s clear desire to steer clear of her disgraced father. One can’t help but wonder what other strings are attached, particularly when Gekko asks Jake to assist him in getting access to an account in his daughter’s name.

Shia does a serviceable job as a young trader who’s in way over his head. But, LaBeouf is a bit overmatched amidst a heavyweight cast including Josh Brolin, Michael Douglas, Frank Langella, and Susan Sarandon. LaBeouf manages to nail the naïve angle this role requires, but he is a bit too sharp/seasoned for a kid who seems barely a day older than 21.

Oliver Stone struggles a bit in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in committing to the spine of his story. Rather than focusing on the most compelling storyline (the redemption of Gekko), he includes a number of less compelling threads including Jake’s adversarial relationship with Josh Brolin’s Bretton James, who plays a younger, more ruthless version of Gekko, and Jake’s relationship with his somewhat delusional mother played by Susan Sarandon.

Ultimately, you find yourself wanting to see more of Gekko and less of the others, which is a tribute to Michael Douglas and screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff. Loeb and Schiff give us a tarnished, aging Gekko that questions himself, the “greed is good” mantra he coined, and how much time he has left for a second act.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is no classic, but it stands up nicely to the original, raises some interesting questions, and is a refreshing palate cleanser for the frighteningly mediocre summer films we’ve been subjected to the past few months.