Perhaps the greatest validation of “Wall Street,” Oliver Stone’s eloquent 1987 take on of big-business corruption, was the eventual exposure of white-collar con men like Kenneth Lay and Bernie Madoff, whose unchecked greed would, years later, cost those who trusted them — and America — dearly.
Stone could at this point have let the facts speak for themselves, but instead chose to resurrect Gordon Gekko, the reptilian corporate raider, made famous by Michael Douglas, whose credo — “greed is good” — became the unofficial mantra of the Me Generation.
In hindsight, Stone should have left Gekko behind bars, a casualty of his own shark-like appetites, but here he is, back on the streets he once owned, in “Money Never Sleeps.”
And to what end? To reclaim his position as the patriarch of a family we never knew? Or to re-establish his empire?
Gekko, who claims eight years in prison taught him that time, not money, is man’s most precious commodity, seems to want both, though he slyly downplays his Wall Street ambitions.
He’s out of the stock-market game, he says, but we know better. Men like Gekko crave money (or the pursuit of it) the way others need oxygen.
In Jake, the alternative-energy booster engaged to Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), the once-invincible tycoon believes he’s found a kindred shark.
Yet Jake lacks the killer instinct Gekko nurtured in Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), his too-willing apprentice in “Wall Street.”
That’s not to question Shia LaBeouf’s credibility as heir to Gekko’s tarnished throne. As Jake, LaBeouf sparkles with the jittery energy of an up-and-comer awed by his future father-in-law’s legacy.
Can the whiz kid live up to it? No, because he’s not a killer, and money is not really his endgame.
Wasted in Stone’s convoluted mix of subplots are Susan Sarandon as Jake’s cash-poor mother, and Josh Brolin as Bretton James, a hedge-fund heavyweight who feels like an afterthought, his day of reckoning a too-obvious indictment of Wall Street recklessness.
“Money Never Sleeps” is bound to find its audience, particularly among those who, like myself, were admirers of Stone’s original. Driven as much by Sheen’s naive pupil as by Douglas’ ruthless insider, “Wall Street” was an astute reflection of its day, but also of the greed implicit in aspects of the American Dream.
Stone’s follow-up is timely, too, but what is the director trying to say? That greed might not be so good after all? That, on Wall Street, perception is reality, and that irresponsible speculation wrecks lives and economies? Fair enough, but did we really need “Money Never Sleeps” to tell us that?
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2 stars)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach
Written by Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff
Directed by Oliver Stone
Running time: 2 hours 13 minutes