Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Film Review)
2 & ½ out of 4 stars
More so than any other 2010 sequel, Gordon Gekko’s second outing suffers from the massive expectations placed on it by its classic predecessor. Although ‘Money Never Sleeps’ is not without its charms, especially Michael Douglas’s riveting reprisal of the iconic villain, the film’s poorly constructed story and weak supporting cast ultimately limit the effect of what could of been one of the year’s best films.
The film opens in 2001 with a disgruntled Gekko walking out of prison after serving a ten-year sentence for insider trading, only to become even more disgruntled when no friends or family arrive to pick him up from jail. After this, the film fast forwards to 2008, just prior to the global financial crisis, to the perspective of upcoming hot-shot stockbroker Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). With his high-paying job and his attractive wife Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who incidentally also happens to be Gekko’s daughter, Moore at first appears to be the spitting image of success.
However, when Moore’s company Zabel Investments is plunged into bankruptcy after a massive stock crash on Wall Street, he must seek the advice of an unlikely ally: the infamous Gekko himself. Intrigued by the former Wall Street icon’s uncompromising views on greed and power within the industry, Moore enters a wary, yet mutual alliance with Gekko. If Moore can help the tycoon rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter, Gekko in turn agrees to give him the aid he needs to rebuild his career and expose the corrupt officials responsible for his company’s downfall.
If there’s one reason to see ‘Money Never Sleeps’, it’s definitely Michael Douglas’s performance in the lead role. Even with his greying hair, Gekko still lights up the screen with his wily charisma, barely hiding his ferocious ambition as he manipulates the actions of all who cross his path. Unlike in the original ‘Wall Street’ though, Douglas is given the opportunity to display some sympathetic aspects to the character as well. In fact, Gekko’s release from prison and his tearful confrontation with his daughter are arguably the most emotional scenes in the film, thanks largely to the terrific acting of Douglas. If the film’s overall quality was more consistent, Douglas would undoubtedly have been nominated for a second Oscar for his fascinating, complex reprisal of the role.
Additionally, ‘Money Never Sleeps’ is also filmed with impeccable style by director Oliver Stone, who gives the dense subject matter a glossy, commercial sheen. Some of the technical candy on display includes gorgeous aerial cinematography of New York City, a soundtrack filled with catchy pop rock songs, and a wardrobe of suits extravagant enough to make James Bond green with envy. Like the original ‘Wall Street’, ‘Money Never Sleeps’ deserves credit simply for managing to turn the world of accounting and finance into a glamorous mass-market, Hollywood blockbuster.
Unfortunately, there’s almost no substance to support the style in this outing. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film is the complete ineptness of its storyline, which randomly flounders from one event to the next with little structure or purpose. Nowhere is this more apparent than the story’s conclusion, which is so lightweight and unsatisfying that it tarnishes the viewer’s memory of the entire film. This is even more disappointing when taking into account the dramatic potential of the film’s setting during the outbreak of the financial crisis, mostly kept in the background as a plot device rather than the thematic cornerstone that most viewers would expect.
This would have been forgivable had the drama between the film’s actors been compelling, but apart from Gekko, most of the other principal characters are disappointingly one-dimensional. As Gordon Gekko’s protégé Jake Moore, ‘Transformers’ star Shia LaBeouf is a pale substitute for Charlie Sheen’s character in the original, despite the actor’s best efforts to humanise the thinly written role. The same can be said of both Carey Mulligan as Winnie Gekko and Josh Brolin as the villainous tycoon Bretton James, neither of whom leave much of an impression or are very believable in their respective parts. Ultimately, the only notable performance other than Douglas’s is that of Frank Langella as Louis Zabel, the unfortunate owner of Jake’s previous firm Zabel Investments. Although Langella’s role is brief, the subplot of his corporate downfall represents one of the movie’s most daring elements, to the point that the story almost seems less engaging in his absence.
If it fully delivered on the promise of its story, ‘Money Never Sleeps’ could have easily been the most powerful film of the year. With Michael Douglas reprising his most famous role, an A-list ensemble cast, Oliver Stone returning to the director’s chair, and the timely backdrop of the global recession, it certainly seemed like the magic could be recaptured for a second time. Sadly, ‘Money Never Sleeps’ fails to live up to its lofty pedigree, even despite the best efforts of its director and star. Instead, it’s just another entertaining yet shallow sequel, soon to be forgotten after it leaves theatres.
‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ is currently playing in Hong Kong, and opens on October 15th in mainland China.