Thursday, September 30, 2010


In Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," it touched on genius to use one of the 1980s' fictional icons, barracuda financier Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), as the angel of redemption. It's not that Gekko's changed much. You see him on the commercials chomping a cigar (provoking a wince now that Douglas is being treated for throat cancer) and saying he's back, and back he is. But he's wiser, evolved. Learning what's really important (his scarred family) doesn't fundamentally alter his symbi0tic relationship with money. It's just that he's managed to put the two together, to deeply moving effect.

Stone's movie is Obamian in its fascination with evolutionary radicalism. Hero Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a next-level Gekko, ambitious and ruthless but also, in greater measure, loyal and idealistic. He's desperate to scare up $100 million for a befuddled scientist (played by Austin Pendleton) who seems to be on the verge of a fusion power breakthrough. While we don't really know what Jake's financial stake in the company is, there's no question that he believes it would be good for humanity to figure out how to make free energy from seawater. A big jolt of the movie's energy comes from Jake's passion to bring that moment about, an evolutionary tipping point when a species evolved from the sea (in Stone's cosmology) would be saved by it.

Jake's also busy trying to trick his fiancee, muckraking blogger Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), into reconciling with her ex-con father while trying to avenge his own fallen mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), driven to ruin thanks to a whispering campaign launched by rival tycoon Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Some of these events mirror what happened in the financial markets in 2008. But the market crash isn't Stone's main subject. He doesn't come off as being against money or even greed, but he does think they are apt to get the better of us. We get a lecture from Gekko about over-mortgaged consumers and about how today's barracudas make him look like Gordon Guppy. After the meltdown, Jake demonstrates his own evolved sensibilities by telling his mother, a bankrupt real estate speculator, to get a real job.

But the movie lacks the foreign policy seminar quality of Stone's grindingly dull, and mostly noxious and flat wrong, Vietnam-Iraq trilogy. "Wall Street" is about the important stuff: Whether the boy gets the girl and a more reliable father figure. "People, you gotta give 'em a break," Gordon Gekko says wearily near the end. "They're a mixed bag." Does that go for Nixon and Bush, too?

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