Monday, September 27, 2010

Money, So They Say, Is The Root Of All Evil Today

It's been over 20 years since Oliver Stone made Wall Street. In that time, the movie has gone from being a searing commentary on the lawless and greedy behavior of the financial sector to a quaint farce about a trader who wasn't smart enough to evade the law like all the others do. I suppose this is why Stone felt the need to make a sequel called Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. That and the fact that the financial sector has destroyed a great deal of the world without much in the way of punishment to some of its largest players.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps covers the recent financial crisis through the eyes of some fictional characters. Some are obviously based on either actual people or composites of actual people. Then there's Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a trader whose faith in the employer and the system that just gave him his first million dollar bonus before the age of 30 is blinding him to the fact that Keller Zabel, the Lehman Brothers type company for whom he works, is about to collapse under the weight of bad debt. Even when his company's stock loses 50% of its value in a day, Jake begs his boss and mentor, the honorable Louis Zabel (Frank Langella in an Oscar worthy performance), to tell him that this proud, old Wall Street firm isn't about to collapse. What he doesn't know is that the firm has already been sold for a pittance to Breton James (Josh Brolin), head of Churchill Schwartz, the movie's answer to Goldman Sachs. James is the one who started the rumors that Zabel had a mountain of debt it couldn't handle. The open secret is that everyone in the room full of bankers and brokerage firms that decided Zabel's fate had the same huge debts caused by the same crazy mortgages that brought down Zabel.

Jake, meanwhile, is living with a young woman named Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan, one of my favorite rising actresses). If you're thinking her last name sounds familiar, it's because her father is disgraced Wall Street trader Gordon Gekko (do I really have to tell you who plays him?). This is where the movie starts to take off. Seven years after serving a seven year prison sentence for the crimes he committed in the first movie, Gordon has written a book called Is Greed Good? in which he accurately predicts the coming financial crisis and the general state of insanity caused by monied elites basically running our planet. After Zabel throws himself in front of a subway car, Jake finds himself lacking in mentors and that's when he seeks out Gekko.

Like much of the movie, Gekko is an exercise in wish fulfillment. Unlike many men in his situation, Gordon Gekko actually served a proper sentence for his crimes and didn't exit prison a rich man. He does, however, still have his ambition and his instincts that will prove to be both a bane and a boon to Jake as he seeks out some sort of retribution against Breton James, the man he blames for the collapse of his company and the death of his employer.

The first half of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a pretty good fictionalized look at history. The second half, as I mentioned above, is melodramatic wish fulfillment in which evildoers are punished and even try to atone for their actions whereas in real life the people responsible for all this are not only still there but like to moan publicly about their taxes and loss of their bonuses. Still, while not as good as the 1987 film, this is a watchable film filled with entertaining performances from, oh, just about everybody in the movie, even that guy with the weird name who normally makes me itch. It's not a must-see but is a see-it-if-you-want-especially-if-you-can-sneak-into-the-theater-without-getting-caught movie so it's probably worth your time.

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