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Sins of the Fathers
The new movie written by Allan Loeb (chronicler of another white-collar scam in the Harvard-boys-take-Vegas hit 21) and Stephen Schiff (whose script for the 1997 remake of Lolita also deals with a father figure's corruption of the young) opens in 2001, when Gekko is released from an eight-year prison stretch. At first we see him only as a torso with a heavier gut, being handed his effects from 1993, including a mobile phone the size of LeBron James' sneaker. Like any smart criminal, Gekko writes a best-selling autobiography, less mea culpa than me-a-genius, and revels in his fame as grizzled sage and insult comic. "Money's a bitch that never sleeps, and she's jealous," he tells a rapt crowd of MBA students who are in danger of becoming "the NINJA Generation: No Income, No Job, no Assets."
While in stir, Gordon may have developed a conscience. "It's easy selling crack to kids in the schoolyard," he says of the CDOs and all the other arcane acronyms the Street sold to investors whose avarice was matched only by their gullibility. In his little black heart, he may simply regret not having had the imagination and cojones to work those shell-game maneuvers back when he was on top. But he hasn't lost the gift, and by early 2008 he's re-established himself enough to look for his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and to forage for a new dauphin, whom he finds in LaBeouf's Jake Moore.
In the 1987 version, baby bull Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen, who makes a cameo appearance here) had to determine his career compass by following either his blue-collar dad (his real father, Martin Sheen) or Gekko. This time, three moguls want to be Jake's mentor, boss, father figure. The first is the man Jake works for: the aging financial boss Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella), instantly pegged as an old-school mensch by his bow-tie-and-suspenders couture, his grumbling that investment banking is "just a bunch of machines now, tellin' us what to do" and his my-word-is-my-bleepin'-bond ethics.
When Zabel's firm is hobbled by debt and his colleagues in the Wall Street star chamber shut it down à la Lehman Brothers, he steps in front of an onrushing subway train. That geste impresses Gekko: "No one else in this market's had the balls to commit suicide. It's an honorable thing to do." In the wake of the 1929 crash, desperate stockbrokers leaped to their deaths out of skyscraper windows, without a government safety net to break their fall. This time nobody took the fast way to the ground floor; instead, they concocted a government bailout also shown in the movie, with a Henry Paulson lookalike agreeing to the $700 billion tab and reaped billions more.
The second father figure is Gekko, now the wrinkled prophet of Wall Street ("It's the greatest transfer of money from Main Street to Wall Street, and it's going to happen again") who's nostalgic for the Reagan era ("Just like the old days, when we slaughtered men for payback") yet eager to show he can still play with the young barracudas ("Right now it's ugly times ugly, and that's when the ugly get going"). Gekko may soon become Jake's father-in-law, thanks to the lad's betrothal to Winnie, an idealistic sort who runs a green-leaning website. She hates Gordon for being in jail while her drug-addled brother killed himself which is kind of like Penelope blaming Odysseus for everything that happened in Ithaca during the Trojan War. Yet Winnie's impending merger with Jake suggests she's the latest proof of the maxim: You marry your father.
The third mentor in waiting is Bretton James (Josh Brolin, yet another son of showbiz royalty), who hires Jake when Zabel's demise puts him out of a job. Chief stud at the Goldman Sachslike firm Churchill Schwartz, Bretton has the polish and cold smile of a lizard with a manicure. If Brolin's take on Bush 43 in Stone's W. biopic was muddied, he's near perfect here as the embodiment of all the guys who learned how to manipulate the world's money at the School of Gekko. Bretton's prize possession: a framed Goya sketch of, naturally, "Saturn Devouring One of His Children." Only Bretton isn't Saturn; he's Satan.