Wall Street Redux
Yes, Money May Never Sleep...

Oliver Stone is one of my favorite directors.  He has a very concrete style and voice, and he isn’t the least bit afraid to offend either critics or audiences.  Whether it’s artistic sensibilities, politics, or religion, there are no sacred cows with Stone… other than, of course, his own.  So you always know where you stand with a Stone film, and you always know what he thinks.

Which is not to say I love his films.  They are a hit-and-miss mixed bag, with Salvador, Platoon, JFK, and Born on the Fourth of July topping the list as classics or near-classics, and U-Turn, On Any Given Sunday, Natural Born Killers, and Alexander wandering off into the self-indulgent weeds.  But he almost always generates enough interest in his films to turn a profit after international receipts and DVD figures are in. And he never makes poor films.  He is a master director in command of his craft.

That having been said, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may be his weakest film to date.  I have never been a fan of the original Wall Street, which to me seemed a show-boating gimmick film with Sheen-family stuntcasting and Michael Douglas at his hammy, slicked-back worst.  It was, of course, a very personal project for Stone, dedicated to his father, and earned a stack of awards.  I was nonetheless surprised that Stone would go back to the well on this one.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never SleepsThe current film looks like it was taken aback as well.  Given that every character spills his or her motivation and/or modus operandii early on, virtually nothing of surprise or interest occurs in the film—especially since the historical events portrayed are only all too familiar. 

Gordon Gekko, to whom playing the game is everything, gets released from prison with a stack of chips on his shoulder just prior to the housing bubble burst, and is determined to make good on every debt owed.

Jake Moore is a young Wall Street hot shot who is a savant at what he does, but who cares most deeply about developing alternate energy sources.  He’s dating Gekko’s daughter, who cares most deeply about non-profit advocacy journalism and longs to break a global story with weighty ethical implications.

In the periphery, Bretton James is a high-stakes gambler, cheat, and double-crosser who looks out for numero uno.

Gee.  I wonder who will come out on top in this scenario, and how?  And given that this story is, oddly enough, almost an apologetic for self-correcting systems—at the same time that it is, once again, an indictment of a government that is overly meddlesome and damagingly self-perpetuating—everyone but the horse’s ass will get what they’re after.  As a film, per se, this is not very compelling stuff, unless you’re not paying attention very closely or haven’t seen too many films before.

But as is often the case when you start thinking of Stone’s films at the meta level—that is, in terms of how Stone’s films are a commentary on Stone himself, his thinking, and his own M.O.—it starts looking like a work of genius.

This time out, Jake Moore is the stand-in for Stone himself—a hotshot with solid mentors who goes his own route in finding a way to finance the projects he’s really interested in.  Jake takes risks in swimming with sharks in the interest of saving a few dolphins, as it were.  He knows how to play the game, and play it well, but is not a slave to it.

In point of fact, Stone managed to parlay publicity for this very mainstream, big-budget film into a very effective press tour for the film he really wanted to make and talk about: South of the Border, a documentary about political tides in Central and South America in which he interviews the leaders of several nations.  Money Never Sleeps was released theatrically in September of this year; the home video release was just last week.  South of the Border, which bowed theatrically in the U.S. in June, has been on the film festival circuit since the beginning of September, with Stone almost continually available for interviews since then thanks to the high-profile release of Money Never Sleeps.

The backroom deals, tenuous allegiances, and webs of non-coincidences on Wall Street are a fine, fine metaphor for Hollywood.

It’s just a shame that films work much better when conceived as entertainment first rather than primarily as metaphors.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is rated PG-13 for “brief strong language and thematic elements.”  That’s about right.  I really don’t think younger kids would have any interest in this stuff anyway.

Courtesy of the film’s distributor, Greg screened a promotional copy of the DVD release.