9.26.2010

REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone, 2010)

Word on the street is that for years Oliver Stone, who has never before sequelized his work, refused to sign on for a part two to his 1987 Wall Street. The director, with his near-constant desire to create politically relevant films, wasn't swayed until writers Stephen Schiff and Allan Loeb drafted the return of conniving investor Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) around 2008's stock market crash.

Audiences' waits are now over and what does the moment of truth prove? Stone did damn well to hold out. The finished film is a carefully crafted combination of poignant commentary and continued character development. In the relevance department, it trades far higher than World Trade Center and W. combined. Through community-friendly cinematography it's certainly more concerned with the American people than that former slice of patriotic pie. This isn't just a return after two dreadful-to-satisfactory offerings. This is signature Stone.

Money Never Sleeps is a story about aging in a youthfully accelerated world. As newcomer Jacob (Shia LaBeouf) climbs trader ranks, Gekko emerges from his eight-year prison sentence an outsider. As the film progresses, it seems to age along with the alienated antihero. It calms... becomes more rational. This almost reverse pacing may strike odd to those amped up by the opening act's financial head-rush, but it ultimately makes every bit of sense. In fact, it is ultimately more optimistic a yarn than Stone typically weaves. In an exclusive world ruled by the almighty dollar, how does one begin to weigh one's true and lasting worth?

Douglas slips back into his role like he might a comfortable pair of old bl├╝chers. He is Gordon Gekko and he is just as intellectually seductive as ever. And sure enough, it is finally time to take Shia "The Beef" LaBeouf seriously. After headlining DJ Caruso and Michael Bay blockbusters, this is a mature step and he owns it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the young actor smoothly and surely maneuver through the type of character Charlie Sheen delivered so well in 1987. This leading duo is supported by the tender Carey Mulligan as Gekko's estranged daughter, Josh Brolin as a mirror of Gekko's former self and Frank Langella, whose relatively brief part is powerful enough to fuel the entire piece.

Many parallels are drawn to the original film - an aspiring trader protagonist with an erudite but crestfallen father figure, an apparent longshot stock no one believes in, etcetera - but Money Never Sleeps never once suffers from a "been there, done that" feeling. On the contrary, the aged perspective makes surface-level changes to the global financial landscape all the more interesting when put through territory similar to its predecessor's.

Technically this is the most impressive Stone has been since his work on my unpopular darling, Alexander. His knack for blocking conversations, photographing various urban environments and skylines and orchestrating flow between scenes brings Money Never Sleeps to the top tier of his achievements thus far. For their cherry, the impressive and highly entertaining proceedings are accompanied by several unexpected yet supremely suitable tracks from prolific musician Brian Eno (of Roxy Music fame) and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

Money Never Sleeps is New York City. It is Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull fresh off opening bell, seeing red in the form of crumbling stock numbers. It is the hustle and the bustle and it will run you over if you're not prepared. Welcome back, Mr. Stone.

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