I'll admit that my kneejerk reaction to hearing of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is that it'd be an opportunistic, unimaginative sequel...just a vehicle to coast on the widespread fear, mistrust, and anger of modern finance. I'm happy to say that I was wrong. This is a sharply written, unwaveringly engaging, and exceptionally well-acted followup to Stone's original Wall Street, and among its greatest strengths is its disinterest in recycling much from the original film. Gordon Gekko is one of the most iconic characters to emerge from film in the past three decades, and he's certainly the most memorable of Michael Douglas' long and storied career. I'm sure there was enormous pressure for Stone to orient Money Never Sleeps around him, but instead, Gekko keeps largely to the shadows, biding his time until the moment comes to strike. The film has "Wall Street" in its title, after all, and Gekko spending eight years in prison for insider trading prevents him from doing much of anything on the Street these days. He's legally prohibited from picking up where he left off. His fortune is gone. He's alienated himself from what's left of his family and from Wall Street as a whole. The world has transformed into something unrecognizably alien in the better part of a decade he's spent behind bars, and at the outset of Money Never Sleeps, it's entirely turned its back on a relic from a forgotten era.
The focus shifts instead toward Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a young idealist who, at least at first glance, seems to be well on his way to making his fortune on Wall Street. He's not cutthroat in the way that Gekko was -- Moore seems aware that he's playing with other people's money, and he has a passion for alternative energy -- and yet the two have quite a bit in common. Both men have had their hopes and dreams ravaged by arrogant billionaire Bretton James (Josh Brolin). It was he who toppled the dominoes that led to Gekko's empire being dismantled and the man himself winding up in prison. James has also just crushed Moore's mentor (Frank Langella) under the heel of his boot, and this looks to be the first of many investment banks to fall in this financial collapse. Gekko and Moore share a nemesis in common, and then there's Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Gekko has been estranged from his daughter for much of her life, to the point that she's barely able to stomach the very mention of his name. Moore plans on marrying Winnie, and he takes it upon himself to bridge the gap between father and daughter...but is he trying to restore those severed bonds out of a love for family or merely to have another seasoned Wall Street wheeler and dealer to stand in as a surrogate father? Still a trader at heart, Gekko agrees to an exchange: his wealth of information, including more than a couple of ways to retaliate against Bretton James, in return for time with his daughter. It's a
I've read some grousing about Money Never Sleeps' approach to drama, but I think it works rather well. The emphasis is placed heavily on family -- Gordon Gekko having alienated everyone who ever could've been close to him, Winnie's reluctance to let down her guard, Jake's intense drive to please whatever surrogate father figure is mentoring him at the time -- but Stone handles it deftly and with a minimum of schmaltz. Whenever it seems as if the film is teetering too far in that direction, Gordon Gekko typically swats it the other way. It's established early on that modern finance is essentially incomprehensible, even to those who've spent literally decades on Wall Street. The maneuevers in Money Never Sleeps are kept easy enough to follow, and Stone prefers to accomplish this visually whenever possible rather than heaping on reams of exposition. Even though my familiarity with finance doesn't stretch beyond paying my bills online, I never felt as if I was being left in the dark, despite Money Never Sleeps' reluctance to lapse into long explanations, and that's appreciated. If you've paid even a little bit of attention to the news over the past couple of years, you really shouldn't have any trouble keeping up either. I'm also intrigued that Money Never Sleeps doesn't trot down the expected path of hero-vs.-villain. Jacob Moore is certainly the protagonist of the film, but calling him a hero would be a stretch. He makes a great many deceitful and unethical decisions to advance his goals, and even though others guide him down the wrong path, Jake is largely responsible for his own downfall. Money Never Sleeps views Gordon Gekko as a force of nature rather than a black hat. His attempts are redemption are transparent. The betrayals that inevitably take place are never in doubt. It's the story of the scorpion and the frog; he manipulates and destroys because that is his nature. Bretton James isn't portrayed as having any real redeeming value, but he's a supporting character, spending far too much time on the sidelines to be considered a proper villain. The corrupt, unsustaintable system is the true nemesis, and James merely represents a part of it.
Money Never Sleeps boasts a spectacular cast. Michael Douglas is never anything less than engaging, resonating with such dominance that Gordon Gekko feels as if he maintains a larger presence in the film than he really does. Gekko is used sparingly throughout the first half of Money Never Sleeps, ensuring that his every appearance is that much more impactful, and there's the lingering mystery of what his game is, exactly. Clearly Gekko is after something, and the intrigue comes in waiting for the reveal of what that scheme is and how these many people play into it. Shia LeBeouf has been relegated to Plucky Young Action Hero roles for the past few years, and he shines in this rare turn as a dramatic lead. Jacob Moore never threatens to be as compelling as Gordon Gekko, no, but I don't think that's the point. He's meant to be sympathetic, identifiable, but flawed. He's an idealistic blank slate craving to be molded by his mentors. He's the audience, basically -- we like him when he aims high and wince at his glaring mistakes -- and in that, LeBeouf succeeds greatly. Carey Mulligan, as ever, leaves an enormous impression, making the most of a rather small role. Winnie is the strongest and most virtuous character in the film, and the only mistake she makes is her misplaced trust in the men she's loved. A lesser actress would like overemote in a supporting part whose purpose is essentially to be betrayed, but Mulligan's skill is in conveying great emotional weight in a more subtle and believable way. Josh Brolin, as ever, oozes power and arrogance as the modern day equivalent of Gordon Gekko, and yet there's an undeniable charm to him. Bretton James is a
I'm also impressed by how nimbly paced Money Never Sleeps is. Despite its daunting 133 minute runtime, there's such a constant sense of momentum that the film is never given a chance to drag. I really don't have many meaningful complaints to make at all. I don't have any investment in the relationship between Winnie and Jake, and whether or not they're able to patch things up isn't all that compelling to my eyes. There's a revelation in the third act of the film that's meant to heighten that, and although I'm trying to dance lightly around spoilers here, this struck me at first as being a bit of a clichéd plot device. At least Oliver Stone is clever enough to avoid letting that sort of family drama unravel in the expected way. Stone does fall into convention somewhat at the very end, however. The conclusion wraps up everything in a rather clean, tidy way...not necessarily "happily ever after!" but certainly with enough optimism that a storybook ending seems likely. It's emotionally satisfying, but there's a part of me that craved something more barbed, more forceful, and more than a little bittersweet. I found the rest of the journey so worthwhile that the unevenness of its ultimate destination doesn't bother me all that much, though, and the same holds for some of the clumsier visual metaphors (bubbles, dominoes, Frank Langella's ghostly face on a subway platform).
It's unavoidable that Money Never Sleeps isn't nearly as iconic as the original Wall Street, but how could it be? Too often, sequels set out to top the original -- a familiar "more, more, more!" mentality -- but rather than cranking up the dials a few extra notches or heaping on more of the same, Oliver Stone set out to make a film that stands on its own. This is a worthy followup to Wall Street, boasting a vitality and craftsmanship that far exceeded my expectations. Clearly Oliver Stone was motivated by more than just greed, and that is good. Highly Recommended.
Rather as expected, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps looks gorgeous in high definition. This Blu-ray disc retains the faintly gritty, filmic texture of its 35mm photography. The image remains crisply defined and richly detailed throughout, not suffering from any sporadic softness or focus missteps. Its palette varies somewhat throughout, roaring with vibrancy when showcasing the opulence of some of these people's lives but otherwise content to be gray and overcast. Colors are often subdued but in a way that feels natural rather than cinematically manipulative. There are, of course, no signs of any speckling or wear. The disc is free of any visible noise reduction artifacts or edge enhancement. Its bitrate seems somewhat modest given Money Never Sleeps' length -- the 133 minute film barely creeps onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc -- but the presentation doesn't suffer for it. The image doesn't appear to have been filtered to ease compression, and I couldn't spot any artifacting anywhere throughout this AVC encode. The only flaw that caught my attention was some slight shimmering within the New York skyline, but this is not at all a persistent nuisance. I really don't have any meaningful complaints at all; this is an expectedly terrific job from Fox.
This Blu-ray disc is bolstered further by a lively DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, presented in 24-bit with six-channel surround sound. The emphasis is most heavily placed on dialogue, naturally, and it's rendered cleanly and clearly without ever being overwhelmed in the mix. The sound design does a marvelous job establishing a sense of place, in particular the way it fleshes out the hustle and bustle of a sprawling metropolis like Manhattan: snarling traffic, metallic screeching while waiting for a subway train to arrive, pounding jackhammers, relentless background chatter, ringing phones... It ought to go without saying that Money Never Sleeps is unlikely to be mistaken for a spastic action flick, but there is some activity along those lines that take advantage of the multichannel setup, particularly whenever Shia LeBeouf hops onto a motorcycle. The low-end is substantial when appropriate, particularly in the way it reinforces the score. As much as I love David Byrne, I do think the overreliance on his music feels somewhat excessive, but I don't have any technical qualms with its presentation on Blu-ray. Again, this is a strong effort, and I'm left with little to gripe about.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps also boasts Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The film features subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Though there may not be as many bullet points listed here as in other special editions, the extras here are lengthy and not padded out with promotional filler.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps arrives in a sturdy slipcover with a Velcro-sealed opening flap.
The Final Word
Money Never Sleeps will in no way be the enduring, iconic film that Wall Street has been for more than two decades now. I think Oliver Stone recognizes the futility of even attempting anything along those lines and wisely aimed in a different direction altogether. Despite the fact that Money Never Sleeps opened to mixed reviews and indifferent box office, I'll go against the grain and say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. The film crackles with an energy I wouldn't expect from a film oriented around numbers and stock tickers, Stone has assembled a marvelous cast, and even though I'm sure the audience wanted to watch a movie oriented around Gordon Gekko finding his footing in this erratic new economy, Money Never Sleeps daringly chooses instead to tell another story. The end result may be imperfect but is is still far more compelling than I expected.
Again, bear in mind that I'm very much in the minority with a review this positive. I've read a number of pans and dismissals, and honestly, I don't even disagree with many of the complaints aimed at the film. It's just that I consider Money Never Sleeps' missteps minor enough to be easily overlooked, and I believe the film's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Recognizing that I'm an outlier, you might find it worth reading other reviews to perhaps get more of a full picture. Despite its flaws, I very much recommend Money Never Sleeps, a worthy followup to Oliver Stone's iconic Wall Street, and the quality of the presentation and its extras make this Blu-ray disc that much more deserving of a purchase. Highly Recommended.