(3 of 3)
Money Never Sleeps slaps his oeuvre back to life. Looking as if it had been made on a budget only Lloyd Blankfein could pony up, the picture (shot by Rodrigo Prieto) has visual zazz in spades. The ribbon of Dow tickers crawls across the actors' faces as if Wall Street were the Matrix. Wretched excess rarely has such a swank face: a Metropolitan Museum charity dinner where all the swindlers gather; Jake's engagement gift to Winnie of a Bulgari diamond Liz Taylor would envy; rich men's toys like motorbikes and crash helmets with Bluetooth. When Stone is not flashing Zabel's ghost on a men's-room wall to haunt Jake's conscience like Christmas Past, he's packing the film with objective correlatives: Zabel speaks of stock bubbles, and we see a kid's soap bubble rising blithely, precariously over Central Park.
As social comedy, the script is best when it's bitter. The first two acts are a splendid vaudeville of fast talking and dirty dealing. At the climax, though, the picture starts flailing toward an old Hollywood happy ending of revenge and redemption, forcing Gekko to commit an act repellent to his nature a good deed in his stab at reconstituting his family. The true, bleak worldview of satire would have demanded the abortion of one character's fetus as a final sting and judgment. Instead, the conclusion leaves the main players in place for a Wall Street 3, which Stone has said he's contemplating.
LaBeouf, who seems too seedy and smart to play action heroes in Indiana Jones and Transformers movies, is terrific here as a man who wants to make it big without breaking too many rules. Most other members of the large cast invest themselves fully in the energy and piranhalike appetites of their roles. Only Mulligan, so charming as the precocious teen in An Education, is distressingly wan and weak as the token saint; we'll wait for further films to see which film was the correct clue to her talents.
Douglas, looking more Kirkian than ever, struts through most of the movie having almost too much fun; if he was worried that Gekko would be too appealing, it doesn't show in his born-salesman's smile. But then he has a big scene, in which Gordon confesses to Winnie his despair over the suicide of her drug-addled brother. As he sobbingly takes responsibility for "how many mistakes I made as a father," Douglas boldly merges his character with his personal life. When the actor's son Cameron was recently sentenced to five years in prison for heroin possession and crystal-meth dealing, Douglas owned up to "being a bad father" and added that without going to jail, Cameron "was going to be dead or somebody was going to kill him."
Unlike the first movie, made before the 1987 crash, this Wall Street decries financial chicanery from the ethical altitude afforded by hindsight. Set in 2008, it allows Gekko to speak prescient lines written in 2009 for audiences in 2010. (The film does have one serendipitous subplot: the peddling of offshore oil-drilling leases. Nice timing for the BP scandal, guys.) No deep thoughts here; this is a product of shiny surfaces and snappy patter, the cinematic equivalent of a derivatives offering. But the greed-is-good mantra possesses continued, perhaps eternal relevance, both to Wall Street and to Hollywood. The story of a resourceful entrepreneur trying to walk the line between business and morality and to connect father to son by any means necessary is central to another big, bustling movie that premiered this month. In a way, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the real Iron Man 2.