What most endures from Oliver Stone's Wall Street is the tag line uttered by Michael Douglas as its villainous financier, Gordon Gekko: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." That bit of alliteration quickly became enshrined in popular culture, encapsulating the gimme-gimme materialism and insider-trading scandals of the 1980s. But the entirety of the 1987 film stands as a sort of time capsule. Re-released on DVD for a special 20th anniversary edition, Wall Street now feels like a funhouse-mirror reflection of the decade that gave us yuppies and junk bonds.
Its over-the-top caricatures might compromise the film's seriousness, but not its entertainment value. Oliver Stone is a wizard of anti-subtlety. While it is saddled with some ham-handed moralizing, Wall Street crackles with urgency and wit. It boasts razor-sharp dialogue (even aside from Gekko's "Greed Is Good" speech), some genuine excitement and consistently fluid camerawork.
Chances are you already know the story. Set during the Bull Market of 1985 (despite a throwaway reference early on to the 1986 Challenger explosion), Wall Street focuses on go-getter trader Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and the Faustian deal he makes with corporate takeover mogul Gekko. Sheen is suitably bland in the less showy role, but Michael Douglas, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal, lends considerable charm to this fast-talking egoist who quotes Sun Tzu and derides lunch as being "for wimps."
Bud insinuates himself into Gekko's rarified world by offering up a tantalizing tidbit about Bluestar Airlines, a company for which Bud's father (Charlie Sheen's real-life dad, Martin Sheen) works as an engineer. The fictitious airline is about to be cleared of fault in an accident, Bud tells Gekko at their first face-to-face meeting, and the hush-hush development is certain to boost its stock value. Gekko parlays the tip into a quick fortune and leads Bud down a slippery slope of questionable ethics. In short order, Bud has been dispatched to spy on Gekko's arch-nemesis, a Brit named Wildman (Terence Stamp).
As this is essentially an old-fashioned morality play, there are competing forces for Bud's soul. While Gekko lures him with big money and all the trappings that go along with it -- including Daryl Hannah woefully miscast as a cold-hearted hottie -- Bud also gets homespun advice from his dad and Hal Holbrook as a sage broker evidently based on Oliver Stone's own father (Lou Stone worked on Wall Street for 34 years and died a year before the movie's release).
One doesn't need tarot cards to read where Wall Street is headed, but its insidious chewy goodness comes from the execution. Stone indicates in his director's commentary that among his influences was 1957's Sweet Smell of Success, and it shows. Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser have a field day with hard-bitten and imminently quotable lines.
But the movie's greatest asset is Douglas. After Stone's first choices to play Gekko -- Richard Gere and Warren Beatty -- passed on the project, the director turned to Douglas in hopes that he would reveal some of the electrifying screen presence that characterized his father, Kirk. It was a smart choice. Douglas does not make you lose sight of the character's essential arrogance and corruption, but his Gekko is so irresistibly confident and charming that you can understand how he leads Bud - and most of Wall Street, for that matter - down the proverbial primrose path.
Both discs are packaged in a plastic keepcase with a hinged tray. The feature film and optional commentary are on Disc One, with all other supplemental material on Disc Two. The case fits inside a sturdy paper slipcover.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, Wall Street is of solid picture quality, albeit compromised by a slight haziness in Robert Richardson's cinematography.
Viewers can select Dolby Digital 4.0 or 5.1. Both are sharp and clean, although not particularly knockout stuff. Audio tracks are also available in Spanish and French. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.
A bit of a disappointment for a double dip, there are only three new extras from Wall Street's previous incarnation on DVD, and one of them is a disposable one-minute introduction by Oliver Stone.
Even so, the new featurette, Greed Is Good (56:31), is excellent. Documentary filmmaker Charles Kiselyak interviews Stone, cast members and scads of Wall Street suits to examine the movie's enduring cultural significance and spotlight just how much it became a sort of cult flick for people in the business. It is especially fascinating to hear how Gordon Gekko - the villain of the piece, for God's sake - came to inspire a new generation of brokers.
Also worth a look are deleted scenes with optional commentary by Stone. There are some curiosities here, such as outtakes of the director's cameo in the movie and a scrapped scene featuring magician-blowhard Penn Jillette. The 16 deleted scenes have an aggregate running time of 22 minutes, eight seconds.
A carryover featurette by Kiselyak, Money Never Sleeps: The Making of Wall Street(47:33), is just as impressive as Greed Is Good. It contains a number of anecdotes repeated in the more recent documentary, and it has the additional bonus of some wonderfully candid and self-effacing remarks from Stone and Charlie Sheen.
Stone provides a decent commentary, but he is uncharacteristically sedate and even a little tight-lipped. The director has done some terrific commentaries on other DVDs, so it's a bit of a letdown.
Wall Street hasn't aged particularly well as engrossing melodrama, but nowadays it works best as a heightened look at the Eighties. It's hardly among the best of Oliver Stone's catalog, but hey, it's not Alexander, either. Diehard fans will probably consider the lengthy Greed Is Good featurette and deleted scenes worthy of a double dip, but more casual viewers aren't likely to share that sentiment.