Stockbrokers with souls

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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (M). Director: Oliver Stone. Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella. Running time: 133 minutes.

Wall Street: Money Never SleepsAs far as symbolism goes, in a film that takes as its backdrop the market meltdown that led to the Global Financial Crisis, the image of bubbles drifting and bursting against the Manhattan skyline is pretty heavy-handed. Still, Oliver Stone has never been the most subtle of filmmakers.

That said, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a timely sequel to Stone's seminal 1987 film Wall Street, is less a cautionary tale about the corrupting power of greed, than a human drama in which the consequences of financial wheeling and dealing are more of a plot device, than the point of the plot per se.

A focus on the fragility of human beings and their relationships begins during a prologue in which Gordon Gekko (Douglas) emerges from prison, aged, broke, friendless, and estranged from his family.

Venemous corporate raider Gordon was the villain of the original film, the events of which led to his incarceration. However in Money Never Sleeps he is something slightly more complex. Douglas' portrayal again displays the abrasive arrogance that was typical of the character, but there is also an air of weary wisdom about him, as if Gordon has grown a soul during his time behind bars.

Certainly, he seems to have become introspective about his former profession, and downright prophetic about the industry itself. Following a seven-year time-jump, we learn that while in prison he wrote a book, now published under the title Is Greed Good? (an inversion of his old philosophy, 'Greed is good'). The book predicts a financial cataclysm that will result from unrestrained speculation. The year is early 2009.

Gordon's new mantra is that time is a greater commodity than money. At least, so he tells Jake Moore (LaBeouf), the hotshot young trader who approaches him following a promotional lecture.

Jake, as it happens, is engaged to Gordon's estranged daughter Winnie (Mulligan). If she was at all aware of their meeting, she would not approve of it. But Gordon's reputation precedes him, and the astute and ambitious Jake can't resist a personal encounter. Besides, he's virtually family, right?

Gordon seems genuinely to want to reconnect with Winnie. So the two men form an alliance. In exchange for Jake's help in orchestrating a reunion, Gordon will help Jake take down Wall Street barracuda Bretton James (Brolin), whom Jake blames for the collapse of the bank he worked for, and for the suicide of its aging director, Jake's mentor, Lewis Zabel (Langella).

Can Gordon be trusted? Time will tell. Needless to say, Jake's and Gordon's secret scheming has implications for Jake's relationship with Winnie, who harbours deep resentment towards her father.

The looming market meltdown soon threatens to engulf them. But Money Never Sleeps is primarily interested in the ways in which the lunges and plunges of the market impact upon the charactes' lives and relationships, and their susceptibility to greed's corruptive allure. It is testament to the strength of the film's human stories that they are not muddied by the necessary finance-speak required to bring authenticity to the characters' world.

Jake and Winnie's story is particularly emotive and engaging. They seem an odd match: Jake is driven by the buzz and profit of Wall Street, while Winnie works for a progressive, independent — 'lefty', Gordon calls it — news website. But the mismatch is belied by the warm chemistry shared by the actors.

Besides, Jake, it seems, is not cut from the same cloth as the father Winnie despises. His dream project is to secure investment for a company that is developing renewable fusion energy technology. In this, Jake is equally motivated by environmental concerns as by the potential for massive profits — he wants to make money, but save the world while he's doing it.

This is a nice topical touch, but also underlines the fact that Jake is a broker with principles. While the events of Money Never Sleeps threaten to corrupt him, these principles, and his loyalty to those he loves and who have been gracious to him, are the only things that can save him from the Wall Street abyss. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone, Michael Douglas, Shia Labeouf, Josh Brolin



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Existing comments

An old joke among workers fearing unemployment was the definition of an ideal machine: one that had the output of one worker and needed twenty for its operation.

The financial industry has been heading in the same direction. While it is certainly needed as an aid to production it must be recognised as an overhead that should be minimised. Instead it is seen as an end in itself, despite its failures - the equivalent of the medical profession causing disastrous epidemics.

Bob Corcoran | 30 September 2010  

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