Posted by: greercn | October 11, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Gordon Gekko was one of the iconic film characters of the 1980s. Usually heard snarling “greed is good”, his high-powered financier stomped through owning his macho world in Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street”. Whether you thought he was a hero or villain depended on your attitude to the markets and those making massive profits from them.

Michael Douglas brought a warm and affable presence to the role, showing ruthlessness and keeping our attention. Playing mentor to Charlie Sheen’s young pretender to the throne of dealers, the drama caught the mood of the time. It was a slick and entertaining movie.

The characters are revisited to make a point about the 2008 meltdown in the markets, when the straw houses built and borrowed on by sub-prime magicians of money vanished into a puff of smoke, taking Lehman Brothers down with them and changing the banking landscape forever.

We see Gekko come out of jail and start all over again. The young pretender is Shia LaBeouf. I have a problem with Shia. I just can’t see him without seeing Transformers everywhere. And he’s a bit girlie. I fear he will cry at any moment.

Shia plays Jake who is involved with Winnie, Gekko’s daughter, played as a gloomy blogger by Carey Mulligan of “An Education”. Our Winnie lives as fabulously as anyone in “Sex And The City”, but she sneers at money. Go figure.

Winnie blames daddy for the drug death of her brother and they are estranged. Jake wants to fix this while he makes loads of money and, equally, he wants revenge on bad guys and a better life through investing in alternative technology. Jake is busy.

The subtitle is “Money Never Sleeps” and there’s a silly bit more that goes “she’s a bitch and she’s jealous”. I won’t dignify that nonsense by guessing at what it could mean. Who cares? Not me.

The trouble with the plot is that there is way too much Jake and Winnie and not nearly enough Gordon Gekko. Michael Douglas is always compelling and the last 20 minutes pulls you into Gekko’s happier world of expensive booze, cigars and clothes again, but by then you have almost been bored to tears by Winnie and Jake.

It’s like going to quite an interesting party, hearing fascinating stories and getting stuck next to this rich hippie couple who won’t shut up and have too many annoying contradictions. Finally, the charming host rescues you – but the memory of the boredom will not fade and you struggle to get back to enjoying yourself.

The movie is at its most entertaining when it’s lovingly showing the detailed relationships between the banking leaders, the American government and the 2008 meltdown. Frank Langella and Eli Wallach are both astonishingly good and take their stereotypes to quite affecting levels.

Susan Sarandon is terrific as Jake’s mother,  struggling with real estate sales. Josh Brolin convinces as a banking star. A great motorcycle race is spoiled by some macho wordplay and some dull dialogue. The music, by David Byrne and Brian Eno, captures the mood and enhances the film.

If you saw “South Of The Border”, it will help you to understand what Oliver Stone is trying to say as he questions modern America. New York looks great, but has a sick unpleasantness at its money-making heart, according to Stone.

But as you have spent about a third of the movie looking at your watch and feeling slightly bored, you’ll need to wake up quickly to get this quirky and interesting message. The young crowd at the Stratford Picture House all seemed to enjoy it hugely, so maybe I was expecting too much from Stone.

Do go see it, but be patient through the middle bit and enjoy the pretty people and the great panoramic shots of New York and Long Island. Graydon Carter and Charlie Sheen play cameos too. Just roll with it and you will find lots to like here.



  1. But it is sanitised capitalism. Other than the merchant banker who commits suicide because his bank, that he built, goes bust very little is shown of the effects of the meltdown. The worst that seems too happen is the hero’s mother has to go back to nursing when her property business goes bust because her son can only (!) give hr 30K dollars. The American dream continues financial meltdown or not.

    • That’s part of the point Oliver Stone is making. Capitalism has its own force, regardless of the effects. Stone is concerned with the abuse of power by the powerful and by the decisions made by those in charge. He has evolved from his conspiracy theories to a deeper position. At least he is trying to say something of meaning about the meltdown, which is more than others are doing.

  2. Fair enough but he does not provide much example of the effects of the abuse of power. OK it’s a deeper position than conspiracy theories, not enormously difficult. What the something of meaning about the meltdown was passed me by. We would not even know it was a meltdown unless we had been told. Is that the meaning? What does come over is that there is no need to worry because the American way of life will continue just fine. This is emphasised nicely by the energy subplot that tells us that fusion will solve all the world’s energy problems, courtesy of America and American capitalism (not the Chinese!) brokered by the far-sighted capitalist hero. It’s reassuring pap, pleasantly done.

  3. having lived through, like everybody else, the insanity of the last couple of years since september of 2008, when roubini’s dire forecast came true, and having been as much a student of what happened as an observer — given all the documentaries made and dramatizations of the great recession made since then — i thought stone did a really fine job on this film.
    his nyc of today seems somehow more real than the one of 1987. and i really enjoyed that movie. imagine — a happy ending from oliver stone! fanfirkintastic!
    that being said, it was an oliver stone movie, so that whole ‘money is a bitch who sleeps with one eye open…’ scene was practically inevtable, really. i thought th ebest line in the film was when gekko and jake first meet, and are walking past fordham u. when gordon says about langella’s suicide, “it was an honourable thing to do…” it was, really. too bad more of the ‘real’ masters’ of the (collapsed) universe didn’t feel so inclined.
    two thumbs up.

    • I am glad you enjoyed it too. Lots of people were critical of it – I am not sure what they were expecting. It’s Oliver Stone. He does exactly what he says he will do. Have you seen “South Of The Border”, his movie about South America? It’s terrific.

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