Usually it is unnecessary when a film’s writers slip its title into a line of dialogue. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” has an exact moment like this, although thankfully, the statement is poignant rather than extraneous. In this sequence, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) compares money to a restless mistress that never is satisfied, hence the “Money Never Sleeps” subtitle. What makes this sentence important though is its connection to the theme of greed, which permeates the entire movie.
It is clear that the director Oliver Stone has an objective he is seeking to accomplish by telling this story. He hopes to convey lessons about the dangers of greed through the experiences of his characters, mainly Gordon and Jake (Shia LaBeouf). What makes the sequel so engaging however is its expression of this theme through a fictionalized version of actual events from American culture.
For those who have not seen it, the original “Wall Street” is about a young stock trader Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) willing to do anything to get to the top. Fox crosses paths with the famous stock speculator Gordon Gekko, who guides Fox into some shady business deals, touting his motto that “greed is good.” Ultimately Fox decides to give up Gekko to the authorities for insider trading, sending the man off to jail.
“Money Never Sleeps” picks up in 2004, when Gekko is finally released from incarceration. Defeated and forgotten, the once mighty Gekko emerges into a world where no one cares about him.
The film then cuts to 2008, where we meet Jake Moore, a promising broker for a financial firm led by Jake’s mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Moore is dating Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who wants nothing to do with her father, the convicted criminal.
Jake’s life comes to a screeching halt when rumors circulate that Zabel’s firm made a series of subprime real estate investments, which causes its stock to plummet. With the firm in dire straits, the rest of the industry, led by Bretton James (Josh Brolin) refuses to bail the company out. Angry and distraught over the destruction of his firm, Jake decides to seek revenge against Bretton James.
Meanwhile, Gordon Gekko has been attempting to revitalize his reputation. He has developed a lucrative career that consists of public speaking on the current economic climate and on his time in prison. Jake is enthralled by Gekko’s charisma after seeing him talk. He approaches Gekko under the guise of rekindling relations with Winnie.
Jake really wants aid from Gekko though, so that he can exact revenge on Bretton James. The two decide to make a mutual exchange: Gekko becomes an adviser to Jake, while Jake helps Gekko reconnect with his daughter. What Jake discovers however is that bringing Gekko into his life, challenges his relationship with Winnie, and tests his faith in this newfound mentor. Even though Gekko is seeking redemption, he has an incredibly hard time letting go of his selfish ways.
“Money Never Sleeps” is a fascinating sequel because it strives to be more than a rehash of the original film. As a character Gordon Gekko is still vital as a mentor, although arguably he plays a less important role, since Jake and Winnie’s story is the main focus. Instead of glorifying greed, “Money Never Sleeps” seeks to explain why greed is no good through the relationships it ruins and the damage it does to the American economy. Screenwriters Allan Loeb and Steven Schiff do a fantastic job of incorporating the subprime mortgage crisis into the movie, and making the plot relevant to our current financial situation in the United States.
Stone’s style of filmmaking even appears to have been updated a bit to reflect the times. He utilizes a series of informative graphics and computerized effects to show plummeting stocks, and the rapid spread of information via the internet.
Another fascinating thing that Stone does as a director is to emphasize the setting of Wall Street, as a place of importance and influence on the characters. He accomplishes this through helicopter shots of the buildings and dizzying movements from their outside to their inside.
Michael Douglas is at the top of his game as Gordon Gekko. Douglas still has the charm and the wit to execute Gekko’s great one-liners, but at the same time he shows us a more sentimental side of the businessman.
Fans of the first “Wall Street” will be excited to see that even though times have changed since the 80s, Oliver Stone is still able to tell a compelling story about the excitement of the business world and the downside to its greed.
My Grade: B+