By Kate Muir
Gordon Gekko, the venal king of Wall Street, is back with this simple message for viewers: “I once said greed is good ... but now it seems it’s legal.”
In this sequel Gekko has been released after eight years in jail for financial fiddling, and he has gone from trading oil to selling snake oil in the form of a self-help book Is Greed Good?
Michael Douglas reprises the role that brought him an Oscar, as the director Oliver Stone takes another bite at the sub-prime bubble, in Wall Street — Money Never Sleeps, which shows the financial markets in gruesome meltdown from 2008 onwards.
With the joyous zeal of a convert, Gekko says that speculation is the root of all evil and sums up the situation: “You’re all pretty much f***ed.”
The film actually centres on Jake Moore, played by Shia LaBeouf. He is a hungry, thrusting young trader at a bank suspiciously similar to Bear Sterns, where his specialty is renewable energy deals.
He has a beautiful girlfriend, Winnie, played by Carey Mulligan in pixie-Audrey Hepburn mode, who runs a green news website. Unfortunately, her second name is Gekko. She is Gordon’s estranged daughter.
Jake’s bank crashes and is bought out by Churchill Schwartz (a JP Morgan lookalike) for next to nothing, bringing Jake’s mentor down with it. Soon Jake is working for Churchill Schwartz and looking for revenge.
Gekko is there to help, in exchange for Jake arranging a rapprochement with Winnie.
Jake goes into battle with the bank’s head honcho, the hammily wicked Bretton James (James Brolin). James and Jake have a traditional Masters of the Universe duel. They helicopter into New England in the fall, put on tight black leathers and have a motorbike race. Then they have a fight. It’s their schlong-song.
Soon, James is swept up in the financial apocalypse too. As his bank crashes under the burden of toxic debt, he growls: “This is too big to fail.”
Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps is under a similar weight of expectation and, for my money, the 1987 version is best. Stone tries far too hard to explain the inexplicable, and there are graphs on the New York skyline, falling dominoes, bursting bubbles and neon share prices beamed onto the streets.
The financial dramas Enron and The Power of Yes struggled with number-boredom too. If you don’t work in the financial sector I suggest you take a crib sheet to the film explaining terms like sub-prime mortgage- backed securities and credit default swaps. You’ll also need to know the basic principles of nuclear fusion-based seawater energy production.
Beneath the information overload, however, there are some great performances and Douglas is still terrific, although increasingly raddled. Without giving away the plot, Gekko’s hair precisely mirrors his mood, from scruffy to bouffant and then greasily slick.
Mulligan is a natural, down-to-earth Winnie, and it’s pleasing that Stone avoided the obvious actressy choices of those off-the-shelf American Jessicas (Biel, Alba, etc.). LaBeouf does a steady job, but there is just something that says “airline attendant” to me about him. He lacks ballast.
I wonder how this will play with a generation that has not seen the original, and whether the drama works without all the comic references to the past, when mobile phones were huge white bricks with aerials. But Wall Street 2 gets four stars for old time’s sake — and for its music by David Byrne and Brian Eno, an appropriately retro choice.