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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THERE are those who argue that Oliver Stone has lost some of his fire when it comes to directing, describing W., his recent biopic of George Bush, as toothless, World Trade Center, his response to 9/11, as ‘play-it-safe’ and South of the Border, his recent documentary on Hugo Chavez, as a little too rose-tinted.

Hence, some of the criticism surrounding his return to Wall Street, for Money Never Sleeps, has focused on the director’s decision to turn Gordon Gekko into a sympathy figure… a former villain turned financial hero.

Some others might argue, and myself included, that with age comes the benefit of experience and wisdom. Whereas the younger Stone may have been quick to point fingers and rustle feathers, the older filmmaker is more content to enable his films to stand a longer test of time.

That’s not to say he has lost his ability to provoke fierce debate or tackle ‘hot button’ issues. Rather, the films he is delivering are best viewed with the long game in mind. And, in my opinion, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, will stand that test.

It’s an astute piece of filmmaking that confidently examines the credit crunch and those ‘responsible’ for bringing about the latest crash without becoming overly hysterical or launching conspiracy theories.

Stone knows his stuff and is, in a way, banking on the longer view of history. He would probably even laugh at those critical ‘hot-shots’ who accuse him of missing the boat with this belated sequel, just as they derided him for delivering W. when they saw it as almost too late to be relevant. But then again, a film takes a long time to make.

Money Never Sleeps works on several levels. It’s an eye-opening account of the Wall Street collapse of 2008, a compelling character study and a cautionary tale.

In financial terms, Stone uses the New York skyline to bombard viewers with charts showing financial profit and loss, while tapping into the energy of the Big Apple and Wall Street itself to lend proceedings a certain charge and pace.

His characters sometimes feel incidental in the early stages… caught in a tailspin of their own making, yet blissfully unaware of how exactly they’ll be hit as Stone hits you with financial rhetoric and facts and figures that are often quite dizzying.

But primary among these characters is Shia LaBeouf’s ambitious trader Jake Moore, who finds himself devastated by the fate of a senior broker and mentor (Frank Langella’s principled Louis Zabel) and plotting revenge against the man responsible for his company’s downfall (Josh Brolin’s Bretton James).

He’s also planning a marriage to Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), estranged daughter of Gordon (Michael Douglas), who would like nothing more than for Jake to turn his back on Wall Street, while keeping out of her father’s way.

Alas, Jake is seduced by Gordon after going to see him at a book launch, and gambles that Gordon will turn out to be a good guy in his own quest to secure a water-tight financial future.

Stone’s movie is arguably at its best when hovering around the various business meetings and back-stabbings that take place, which recall the dazzling brilliance of his first movie way back in 1987.

But it’s equally as absorbing during the family drama, when Douglas is allowed to really tap into the regret and rage he still feels at his own fall from grace, as well as the emotional cost.

Gekko is a broken man… yet a wise one. Where once “greed was good” and a motto for him, Gordon would rather question the tactics of those who have helped to screw the economy and every man, woman and child invested in it.

But just how sincere is he? Or, rather, is he a crocodile in waiting?

Such quandaries allow for some mesmerising scenes, especially between recent British Oscar nominee Mulligan and Douglas, who go toe to toe in breathtaking, often heart-wrenching fashion.

But LaBeouf proves himself a far better actor than most of his more blockbuster material would suggest, holding his own against Douglas and Brolin’s villain – full of bravado one minute, wounded and out of his depth the next.

There’s stalwart support, too, from the likes of Langella, as the ill-fated mentor whose suicide serves as a catalyst for the movie’s main emotional drama, and Eli Wallach, as a ruthless businessman with a knack for gestures.

Admittedly, some of the early business wheeling and dealing does require a lot of attention (and carries the air of an episode of ER that’s high on medical terminology) but given the knowledge with which viewers bring to the subject matter, it’s not too difficult to keep up.

Gekko, meanwhile, continues to remain a fascinating central figure – a potentially far more dangerous beast whose own past experiences inform his future decision making.

If Stone cannot resist an ending that leans far more towards the ‘feel-good’ than he’s more commonly associated with, then that’s no bad thing either given the high enjoyment factor of what’s come before.

For in most other respects, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is an astute, engrossing and utterly intriguing experience that’s almost always on the money both emotionally and politically.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 13mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 31, 2011