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The new movie written by Allan Loeb (chronicler of another white collar scam in 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 M.B.A. students who are in danger of becoming "the NINJA generation: no income, no job, no assets."
While in the 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 avaricious, gullible investors. More likely, in his black heart, he simply regrets 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 forage for a new dauphin, whom he finds in LaBeouf's Jake Moore.
In the 1987 version, baby bull Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) had to determine his career compass by following either his blue collar dad (real-life father Martin Sheen) or Gekko. This time, three downtown moguls vie to be Jake's mentor and 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 couture bow tie and suspenders and his my-word-is-my-bleepin'-bond management style. 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 gesture impresses Gekko: "No one ever has 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. 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 look-alike agreeing to the $700 billion tab and reaped billions more.)
The second father figure is Gekko, who's set to become Jake's father-in-law, thanks to the lad's betrothal to Winnie a principled sort who runs a green-leaning website and hates Gordon for letting her drug-addled brother kill himself. And the third is Bretton James (Josh Brolin, yet another son of showbiz royalty), who hires Jake after Zabel's demise puts him out of a job. The chief stud at the Goldman Sachslike firm of Churchill Schwartz, James 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 pretty perfect here as the embodiment of all the guys who learned how to manipulate the world's money from the School of Gekko. James' most prized possession: a framed Goya sketch of, naturally, Saturn Devouring One of His Children. Except Bretton isn't Saturn; he's Satan.
Stone made his writer-director rep with amped-up screeds on Important Subjects: assassinations (JFK); wars in South America (Salvador) and Southeast Asia (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven and Earth); the mass media's fascination with serial murderers (Natural Born Killers) and right-wing demagoguery (Talk Radio). In the past decade, with Alexander, World Trade Center and W., he calmed down, and his films slumped into a long lull.