Saturday, 23 October 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

The money may never sleep in the long awaited sequel to Oscar winning 1987 smash, Wall Street - but the audience sure will. Welcome ladies and gentleman to one of the most curiously gutless films of the year, if not *the* most gutless. It's a baffling switcheroo for a director as politically charged and angry as Oliver Stone. Except, of course, he has mellowed in recent years, and this is much to the detriment of his filmmaking efforts.

The problems are many-fold, starting with an oddly mangled and misguided screenplay that should burn with contempt and hatred for those at the centre of the recent economic downturn. If it had been made 20 years ago, it probably would; instead, it's annoyingly fluffy, asking us to take a vested interest in Shia LaBeouf as a stockbroker, when in fact he's as convincing as the toddler chairing the board-meetings in the Double Velvet loo roll adverts.

A quote from Stephen King about contemporary James Herbert suggested the latter wasn't merely content at scaring us, instead preferring to grab us by the lapels and scream bloody murder. If ever a film needed to scream, this was it. For, regardless of their occasional glib simplicity, Stone's earlier work such as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July couldn't have caught their respective zeitgeist's more effectively. Money Never Sleeps is far to complacent and lazy to catch much of anything. For those now bearing the brunt of the recent budget cuts in the UK, it's doubly insulting.

Thank heavens then for Michael Douglas, making a triumphant return to his Oscar-winning role as Gordon Gekko. The film begins with a terrific, pithy gag: Gekko, released from prison in 2003, and being faced with complete emptiness; the only trace of where he has come from is the horrendous 80's monstrosity of a mobile phone handed back to him. Do we especially care when the film jumps ahead to 2008 and places the ball in LaBeouf's court, looking frankly miffed at the suicide of his mentor (Frank Langella), while simultaneously dating Gekko's daughter (Carey Mulligan) and getting drawn into an ironically twisted spin on the original film's father-son-mentor triangle courtesy of a ruthless Josh Brolin?

No, not really. It's all fluff that goes nowhere and clouds the raw issue of the still deepening economic crisis. But whenever Douglas is on-screen, it holds the interest and resounds with a degree of dramatic irony. Both star and director are clearly galvanized by the return of this most fascinating of anti-heroes, Douglas' ambivalent persona this time painting Gekko as a relic of an earlier age who is able to proffer retrospective insight on the current era of capitalism. The move from 'Greed is good' to 'Is greed good?' doesn't fail to pass the corporate monster by.

Sadly though, all interest and issues are strictly bound up with Douglas. Any further sense of tension withers and deflates, talented actors like Mulligan and Brolin being granted mouthpiece characters who fail not through didacticism but because the focus is going entirely in the wrong place. Surely it's inappropriate to reduce the worst crisis of recent times to the level of glib, trite soap opera? Dare one suggest it, this may have been a case for documentary treatment. Regardless, it's incredibly aggravating that while the bankers have kept on burning the midnight oil, Stone seems to have taken an afternoon nap.

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