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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. As a sidenote, I haven’t actually seen its famous ’80s predecessor, though I’m well aware of its themes and cultural legacy, and this de facto sequel certainly serves as an ironic and bombastic counterpart to the introspection of the loosely similar Margin Call of the very same year.

Stone tackles the in-built, audience expectation of the film’s returning major character with a clever opening coda, where Gordon 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 a new nouveau riche after all, so Gekko has to wait for a regular cab. In some respects, take away the capitalism 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 an egotistical, avaricious bastard, and is he only really wanting to reunite with his daughter so he can access her prodigious trust fund sitting in a bank in Switzerland?

Aside from the relative dramatic quandary for Stone in bringing back his cult character, he actually visualises and works through his ideas 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 intrinsic, abstract nothingness. He even draws ever-decreasing share indexes against the increasingly-lowering skyline of Manhattan away from its centre. If nothing else, Wall Street 2 is certainly another salient 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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