The Cannes Film Festival got Tasered to life today with the world premiere of Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In this sequel to the 1987 satire of institutionalized greed, Michael Douglas' predator in chief Gordon Gekko is sprung from the prison term he was serving for mischief committed in the original film, just in time to see his spiritual offspring manipulate world currency with a toxic grandeur Gekko only dreamed of. Again, he has a slightly more honest young striver Shia LaBeouf, the next-generation Charlie Sheen primed for a master's instruction and destruction. Moving as fast, boldly and recklessly as a trillion-dollar fat-fingered stock-market transaction, the film has the drive, luxe and sarcastic wit of the snazziest Hollywood movies. To the international audience of money men and critics assembled here, it shows that in the pop-culture business, America is No. 1.
Set mostly in 2008, just before the autumn stock-market crash and its revelations of industry-wide malfeasance, Money Never Sleeps, which opens in the U.S. Sept. 24, is also a parable of sons trying to learn from the triumphs and sins of their fathers. That makes it personal to the three gents at the core of both movies: Stone, who dedicated the original film to his stockbroker father Lou; producer Edward Pressman, whose stepfather was a Manhattan banker; and Douglas, whose career can be seen as a struggle to balance the legacy of his movie-icon dad, the majestically feral Kirk, with his more modulated top-dog persona.
Stone's original exposé of the financial world lucked into a historical moment: it opened two months after the Black Monday stock-market crash. But it might have quickly faded from notoriety to anonymity if the director and writer Stanley Weiser hadn't invented that black knight of finance, Gordon Gekko and if Douglas, borrowing some of the pile-driving charm from his dad's early gangster roles, hadn't invested the character with such reptilian brio, such pleasure in playing the game and gaming the system. Strutting his boardroom machismo and expectorating such lasting aphorisms as "Lunch is for wimps," "What's worth doing is worth doing for money," "If you need a friend, get a dog" and "Greed ... is good, greed is right, greed works," Gekko was a monster out of Jacobean satire, yet so damned entertaining that the creature became a role model for financial go-getters and the patron saint of investment bankers as the financial sector clawed its way to record profits in the middle years of the last decade.
Marlon Brando once said he hated Stanley Kowalski, his ground-shaking stud in A Streetcar Named Desire, and was disturbed by Stanley's status as an instant icon for postwar machismo. At their press conference today, Douglas and Stone expressed the same baffled annoyance about Gekko's star status. "Oliver and I were both pretty stunned after the first one, how they perceived Gekko," the star said in comments recorded by Sharon Waxman for the Wrap. "An insider trader, a guy who destroyed companies, destroyed people, very well-written villain, and people are attracted to villains. But we never anticipated that all these M.B.A.s would be ranting and raving that this was the person they wanted to be. And yet 22 years later, a lot of those M.B.A. students are heading up these investment-banking companies now, because the greed hasn't stopped it's since become legal."