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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

August 7, 2013

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Director: Oliver Stone
Actors: Shia LeBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan

Wall Street 2

Synopsis: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from jail in 2001 after serving time for financial embezzlement. Some seven years later, he’s back on the scene in Wall Street, seemingly trying to ingratiate himself with his estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and her hot-shot fiancé, Jacob (Shia LeBeouf). This is all to the backdrop of the 2008 banking crisis….

Review: There’s an interesting subgenre of films over the last few years that have sought to address the growing malignancy of Capitalism and the epochal 2008 banking crisis in particular. Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps certainly deserves a mention in this category. Admittedly, I haven’t seen its famous 80s/Reaganite predecessor, but I’m aware of its themes and cultural legacy, and this quasi-sequel certainly serves as a nicely ironic, bombastic counterpart to say the introspection of the lovely little Margin Call of 2010.

Stone tackles the audience ironic expectation of his major character with a clever opening coda, where Gekko (unseen to the camera) leaves jail and receives his possessions, replete with the garish, anachronistic 80s mobile phone, before a huge limo pulls up outside (we assume for Gekko), until a gangsta ducks in – we live now in the era of the nouveau riche after all  – and Gekko has to wait for a regular cab. In some respects, take away the Capitalism essay/exposé, and the prime tension in Wall Street 2 is how Stone develops the character of Gekko – softening and sentimentalising him to some extent with an estranged daughter plot-driver and his new sideline as a cautionary commentator on the woes of the financial system, versus our expectations in knowing he’s a selfish, egotistical, avaricious bastard, and does he only really want to reunite with his daughter so he can access her prodigious trust fund sitting in a bank in Switzerland?

Away from the relative dramatic quandaries for Stone in bringing back his cult character, I actually think he visualises and thinks through his musings on the banking crisis very well. His perpetual, vertiginous swoops through the Manhattan skyline are not just lame attempts to heighten his story, but to imprint the notion that this very architecture is the location and nexus of Capitalism’s grotesque construct and inherent abstract nothingness. He even draws ever-decreasing share indexes against the increasingly-lowering skyline of Manhattan away from its centre. If nothing else, it’s certainly another interesting essay on post 9/11 New York, and ironically a much more sophisticated charting of its ethos than Stone’s previous, more direct tackling of Manhattan in the wake of the Twin Tower terror attacks – World Trade Center. (August 2013)

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