In 1987, "Wall Street" climaxed with bitterness, revenge, and mournful resignation. The sequel, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," crescendos with a kiss. Much has changed in the world of money over the last 23 years, but more reinvention has befallen filmmaker Oliver Stone, who thoroughly defangs one of his more lacerating creations with a clumsy follow-up that struggles to humanize greed as the financial world goes mad.
Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) is a young proprietary trader attempting to muscle his way into wealth by turning Wall Street's attention to green technologies, including an experimental fusion alternative. In love with Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), Jacob seizes an opportunity to introduce himself to her estranged father, broken corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), now on a book tour detailing his life behind bars. Amused by the kid's gumption, Gordon seeks an alliance with Jacob, trading his industry acumen for access to a daughter that wants nothing to do with him. Building a tentative bond over their monetary daydreams, Jacob and Gordon set their sights on Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a vicious hedge fund manager whose duplicitous ways brought on the suicide of Jacob's beloved mentor, Lewis (Frank Langella).
Far from perfect, actually downright clunky at times, "Wall Street" was a mean motion picture, adroitly exploring the passions of yuppies and the violence of business predators. It was a cutting look into the machinations of the industry, tunneling into the core of greed to address a corrosive, yet highly profitable realm of unethical behavior. His fifth directorial effort at the time, Stone attacked the Faustian screenplay with zeal, projecting a seductive lifestyle of unlimited wealth and unlawful boldness. There was a genuine fire to the picture, constructed back when Oliver Stone enjoyed the taste of blood.
"Money Never Sleeps" is Stone's 18th picture, presenting the filmmaker with an entirely new perspective to explore. Set during the 2008 economic downturn, the picture enters an unstable financial arena where everyone is losing their shirt, panicked that the tanking of Wall Street will signal the end of the world. It's an apocalyptic boost to an otherwise dreary screenplay, which eschews the hard-bitten world of numbers and pressure to shadow a pedestrian take on revenge and sniffly familial reunion.
Quickly jettisoned is the superlative lived-in sense of the "Wall Street" screenplay, which wasn't afraid to leave those who couldn't tell a stock from a bond behind as it slathered on the industry vernacular. Stone cleanly laid out a diabolical plot of immorality to follow, but the language was charmingly impenetrable, reinforced by speed of thought and miraculous thespian conviction. The sequel softens the blow, fearful to overwhelm viewers with a second round of boardroom verbiage. Instead, "Money Never Sleeps" stumbles to explain its every move, from the economic crumbling to fusion theory, unleashing a torrent of unnecessary dialogue and silly visual diagrams to spell out every turn, robbing the film of needed mystique. It's an overly cautious filmmaking effort all around, with ham-fisted "bubble" symbolism, metaphor-clogged monologuing, grotesque product placement, and sloppy editing choking the life out of the proceedings, treating viewers like doorknobs where the first film wanted to start everybody in the mailroom.
As before, Michael Douglas is the primary reason to stick around and endure Stone's dementia, smoothly returning to his Academy Award-winning role with a coolly smug performance that plays to the actor's gifts as an authoritative screen presence. Once Douglas slips back into Gekko mode after a few initial scenes of humiliation, it's like hearing a Porsche rev its engine -- the actor has a gay old time coming back to the grinning hurt machine that's defined his career. Gekko remains the cobra he always was, carefully coiling around Jacob (Douglas creates a plausible chemistry with LeBeouf), but there are now absentee parental issues to sort through, softening Gekko into a hacky redemption tale. The man who once assured the world that "Greed is good" now wants a hug. The character's fury over precious years lost to the prison system is intriguing, but the rest of the role walks along an indistinct path, blended uncomfortably with the rest of the picture.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation offers a lush sense of the city, with cool autumnal tones competing with stylish interiors and forbidding business locations. Colors are ideally executed, purposeful all the way, supplying a potent visual landscape with striking costumes and earthy homesteads. Reds and blues pop right out, escaping the parade of business attire and evening sequences. Detail is superb, allowing faces to be explored to the fullest, holding to a welcome realm of reaction, with every twitch permitted a place here. The textures also reach compelling levels of engagement with nightlife, supplying a New York City look that feels real, heightened by Stone's visual mischief. Shadow detail is consistent and supportive.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is a curious aural event, offering less in the way of blunt theatrics to tinker with subtle sound effects and movement, enveloping the viewer in this chaotic place of endless verbal confrontation. Surrounds are fully engaged with a rich sense of life, pulled from city environments and chirpy business interiors. Directionals are active, working the cuts and split-screens carefully, while dialogue exchanges are crisp and clear, spread around the mix to create the circular feel Stone is aiming for. Soundtrack selections are bold, pronounced throughout the track, allowing for a gentle, but firm low-end response. More violent encounters provide the proper jolt, awakening the picture when needed. Spanish, French, and Portuguese tracks are also included.
English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Cantonese subtitles are offered.
If you've ever had the pleasure to sit through an Oliver Stone audio commentary, you already know the man loves to talk. His mind burns with thought, and the conversation for "Money Never Sleeps" is a rolling snowball of reflection, not only with the film, but the very mechanics of economics. Stone is opinionated and educated, practically salivating during the track as he explores the bold new world of monetary failure. The filmmaker offers plenty of moviemaking contemplation, making sure to articulate the mood of a sequel made decades after the original, examining the mindset of Gekko as he returns to power. However, cinematic construction is not the primary topic, with the director remaining in a philosophical sprint, ruminating on the state of the union, be it the wallet or the heart. A few dead spots throttle the verbal diarrhea, but the track is a terrifically insightful listen that fully represents Stone's perspective.
"A Conversation with Oliver Stone and the Cast" (15:49) is a chat with Douglas, LaBeouf, Mulligan, Brolin, and the director, shot late last year while the film was in production. Sitting down on couches inside a soundstage, the group shares their take on backstory and motivation, working between film clips to explore how the world of "Wall Street" has grown in the intervening years. Stone keeps the chat sobering, but a few flashes of playfulness shine through, along with a rich discussion of money matters.
"Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street" (50:29) is extensive look back at the impact of the 1987 film, and how it reflected an era of excess while establishing a cult hero in Gekko. Interviews with cast, crew, and experts feel out the connection between the two features, verbally describing how Regan-era economics grew to become the mess we're all currently in. Promotional inclinations clog the momentum of the featurettes (interviews are conducted on-set), but the core message of corruption and a literal placement of Wall Street in history is kept clear.
"Deleted and Extended Scenes" (29:31) takes a careful look at the extra weight of the film, restoring superfluous sequences of personal interaction for Jake as his world falls apart. Also included is a blunt introduction for Langella's tragic stock guru, time spent with a fringe character intended to represent the working-class perspective, a few more glimpses of the green technology angle of the script, a bit more of an emotional confrontation between Jake and Winnie, and a Donald Trump cameo. The scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Oliver Stone.
"Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character" supplies conversations with Michael Douglas (5:35), Shia LeBeouf (4:21), Carey Mulligan (5:04), Josh Brolin (5:52), and Frank Langella (5:20) for cable television promotion. Talk of motivation and backstory is presented, padded extensively with film clips. It's interesting to a degree, but pales in comparison to the extensive character discussion found elsewhere on the disc.
The film's remarkable Teaser Trailer and less inspiring Theatrical Trailer are included.
Instead of chiseling out a nightmarish portrayal of financial sector implosion, "Money Never Sleeps" comes off desperate to reiterate a message of fear, hoping to implore viewers to take a second look at those who handle all the money -- an admirable endeavor and a timely update reflecting the broad change of rules on Wall Street. Trading coke, hookers, hair gel, cigarettes, and limos for moral fiber and a worldwide warning shot seems like natural angle for this sequel to take, yet in Stone's beefy hands, the aim is as crooked as the stockbrokers.
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