Note: Some elements of this review have been taken from my theatrical review of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, although it has been updated to reflect how I currently feel about the film.
As the viewer returns to the world of Wall Street in this surprise sequel, it's 2008, and the American financial future looks bleak to Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). "At least he had the balls to commit suicide," he says to Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), about the younger man's late boss. It's been over a decade since Gordon was arrested for insider trading, and he's back on the streets with a new book and a new outlook on big business. Gordon and Jacob's interest in each other is simple: Jacob is right in the middle of one of the worst financial crisises in the country's history and could use Gordon's advice, and Jacob is also engaged to Gordon's daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
With Gordon's help, Jacob traces word-of-mouth that ultimately led to his bank's collapse and his mentor's suicide back to Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a silver-tongued billionaire who offers Jacob a job when confronted with the charges. In exchange, Jacob works to reconcile Gordon and Winnie, who haven't spoken since Winnie's brother committed suicide, during Gordon's imprisonment. The two share a heartfelt, emotional scene on the steps outside a fancy charity banquet, but the question nags: does Gordon Gekko really have a soul?
23 years after the original Wall Street, Douglas has still got it. His cool, collected gift of gab never wavers, tossing out short, succinct ideas about the way it all works that have that special edge of seductiveness. Even if Gordon is not an endearing, personable human being, he still gains more trust in ten minutes just by talking than some people could muster up during a lifetime of encounters. Opposite Douglas, LaBeouf does an admirable job of shedding his usual "acting tics" and playing the character as straightforward as possible. His character Jacob is slightly in awe of Gordon's powers of persuasion, but tries his best to keep one eye open, for Winnie's sake. "I never knew my father as a peaceful person," she warns him. Gordon's current pitch seems safe enough: forget about the allure of money, and focus on the real. "Money is the bitch that never sleeps," he says, "One day you'll wake up, and she'll be gone." Meanwhile, Bretton James (Josh Brolin) moves in on both of them in a performance that reeks of danger. Every word that falls out of his mouth feels like it's coated in his own sense of class and sophistication, and his power over Jacob looms even larger than the sly twinkle in Gordon's eye.
Stone's original film plays as a traditional "rise and fall" story about a guy getting undone by a lethal mixture of arrogance and naivete, but Money Never Sleeps is about "the game", as Gordon calls it, "the interaction between people." It's a dialogue-thick film of people making decisions, juggling motives and options, and the politics of their actions. Stone illustrates the power of ideas, this time in a half-slick, half-awkward montage where people send painfully fake IMs to one another, and giant red and green tickers fly around like spaceships. This and heaps of "no duh" bubble imagery are very on-the-nose, but Stone gets a long way on the strength of his all-star cast (which also includes Frank Langella and the great Eli Wallach) and the potential to explore actual history, like the bailout, in the context of Gekko, Bretton, and Jacob, which gives the film a bit of bite.
Harder to digest are the film's last 15 minutes, when Stone and screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff abruptly stop playing hardball. Perhaps they thought audiences would want relief from the parallels between Gekko's Wall Street and the harsh real world, but the closing scenes are a painfully stupid cop-out that haven't aged well in the short window between theatrical and DVD. In theaters, the ending was blindsiding, but on home video, it drags the entirety of Money Never Sleeps down several points. First-time viewers will no doubt find things to like, with a cast firing on all cylinders and an occasionally potent combination of fiction and reality, but by the time the credits are rolling, it's hard not to imagine the Gordon Gekko of 1987 in the theater, smoking his cigar and laughing cynically to himself at the fairy tale on screen.
The DVD, Video and Audio
20th Century Fox sent over one of their DVD-R screener discs for review in a paper envelope, so no assessment of the packaging, video, or audio can be given. Final copy should include a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation,
Director Oliver Stone provides an audio commentary for the film, and the track is probably more satisfying than the film itself. Stone is a quick-witted, verbose speaker who has plenty to say about the time that's passed between the first and the second films, and the challenges of moving Gordon Gekko into the 21st century. It's an essential listen for anyone who gets their hands on the DVD.
The only other extra is a featurette. "Gekko is Back" (9:29) is a touch over-directed (wild camera angles!) and relies on plenty of footage from the first film, but it's a fairly interesting, if short and somewhat promotional discussion of the Gordon Gekko character and the effect he had on the actual Wall Street.
Trailers for Solitary Man, Unstoppable, Love and Other Drugs, Casino Jack, and a promo for Digital Copies play before the menu (interesting -- two of the films are not by 20th Century Fox). Under the special features, one can access an entirely different "Digital Copy 'How To'", and finally a section marked "Sneak Peek" includes an anti-smoking PSA, spots for The A-Team, Cyrus, Never Let Me Go, "What's Hot on TV on DVD", "FX: There is No Box" and "24": Season 8. Of course, no trailer for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is included.
Parts of this belated Wall Street sequel have more bite and spark than even the original film, and yet, Stone lets it slip through his fingers with a softball ending that lets the characters and the audience down. Although Stone's commentary is a major plus, the extras also pale in comparison with the Blu-Ray version, so a rental is probably wiser than a full-on purchase.
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