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Wall Street - Insider Trading Edition

20th Century Fox // R // September 7, 2010
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 13, 2010 | E-mail the Author
Swamped by debt and exhausted by cold-calling and begging, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is looking to leap a few rungs on the investment broker totem pole. Every day, he calls the offices of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), one of the most powerful and intelligent investors on Wall Street, and every day he gets rebuked. After a particularly bad day that ends with him borrowing money from his old man (Martin Sheen), Bud gathers up some courage and a box of expensive cigars, and heads down to Gordon's office to try and speak to him in person. The gambit works, but when pressured by Gordon for a hot stock tip, all Bud has is insider information about his father's company. Bud finds himself between a rock and a hard place: give up the big fish he's worked so hard to catch, or learn to do business with a redefined sense of ethics.

I first watched Wall Street a few months ago to prepare for the impending sequel Money Never Sleeps, and I found it a touch underwhelming. I was born in the 1980's as opposed to really living it, and watching a movie about the excess and decadence of the decade is like seeing through a crystal ball. I know how it's going to turn out, culturally, and, probably also literally; I may not have known the exact details of Wall Street's ending, but I had the gist of it. Watching it again, I wonder if maybe that's the point, that it was clear even then: how can anyone look at Bud, with his aviator sunglasses and cheesy sweaters, running around town repeating everything Gordon says like puppet, and think the guy's not in over his head?

Perhaps the most compelling thing about the film is how it turns stocks into an elaborate magic trick. There is no value, only perceived value. A crappy painting can hang on a wall in a rich businessman's office for years and be worth ten times the sticker price when he's ready to sell, just because everyone assumes the businessman wants it for a specific reason, that it must have some sort of value or meaning. It's both funny and staggering to watch how Darian (Daryl Hannah), an interior decorator, old fling of Gordon's, and Bud's dream girl, spends untold amounts of money to make Bud's apartment look like it's cracking and crumbling. Even Bud himself doesn't quite understand it: he just lets Darian do whatever she wants, and never considers whether it's actually interesting or practical. The illusion is more important.

In a world where everyone's after ethereal, obscure things, Gordon Gekko wants to give the people what they want. One phone call with a cryptic message -- "Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel" -- and the market is his to manipulate. He informs a roomful of investors that their company is being suffocated by its own board of directors not because it's true (even if it is), but because it's what the investors want to hear. When Gordon ends up up with Bud's father's company, Bluestar Airlines, and chooses to tear it down and sell everything for a quick buck, he doesn't do it for something as twistedly noble as teaching Bud a lesson about doing business without emotion, he does it because he changes his mind, and the bottom line is more important. It doesn't matter to Gordon what he wins or why, just that he wins, and the other guy loses.

The film is bookended with scenes of people walking the streets of New York, Bud among them. Director/co-writer Oliver Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser look down on these people. It's a perspective that invades the entire movie, draining it of some of its power. In the end, the sequel goes too far, arriving at an unsatisfying conclusion, but at least that film gives you something to root for: the possibility that Gordon is a changed man, the hope that Shia LaBeouf's Jacob Moore can escape with his dignity intact. Wall Street is cynical about its characters, watching Bud make poor decisions and scoffing at him. He's the lesser of two evils, naive and glib rather than smug and emotionless. Rise and fall can be compelling, when we see something the characters don't. Wall Street is a handsome movie with solid performances, but it makes ambition seem shameful.

The previous DVD cover was simple: Gordon Gekko's face, the title in big, bold red block lettering, and a black background. For some reason, this new cover paints some stock numbers over Gordon's face, adds a goofy edition title and a hand holding a cigar, and comes up with some new fonts, which look poorly chosen when they're all jumbled together. The back cover is cleaner and nicer, but they should have stuck with the other design for the front. The case is a 2-disc ECO-BOX, and no insert is included.

The Video and Audio
Wall Street is presented in a hazy 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's rich with the feel of '80s films. It's like a cloud of cigar smoke has settled over a sweltering orange sunset, and the video is filtered through it. All in all, it looks alright for what it is -- the only major issue I see is some artifacting in the gray skies during Gordon's early-morning beach phone call to Bud -- but a ground up, from-film remaster might clear some of the murk and bring out more detail.

Dolby Digital 5.1 is also muffled, although it's a touch less choked than the picture. The back speakers stayed relatively quiet, but dialogue is audible throughout and the music sounds just fine. French and Spanish 5.1 are also included, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras
Casey Burchby's review of this disc for DVDTalk sums it up: this is a total cash grab for Money Never Sleeps, and it's not a good one, either. Two paltry featurettes ("Fox Movie Channel Presents: Fox Legacy With Tom Rothman" - 12:10 and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - A Conversation" - 1:47) are the only video content...unless you include the entire feature film with a burnt-in trivia track (called "Wall Street Fact Exchange" on Disc 2 a legitimate extra (I don't).

Since the only holdover on disc 1 is an audio commentary by Oliver Stone that dates back to at least 2001 (the film's first DVD release), and the disc is, ahem, suspiciously similar to the first disc of the 2-disc 20th Anniversary Edition, menus and all, there's no excusing Fox's laziness when doing this cash-in. A proper (if still unnecessary) re-release would have added the trivia track as a subtitle stream on Disc 1, and added the new extras to the slate of features from Disc 2 of the 20th Anniversary set (which are not present here), but I guess Fox was too busy to do any of that. Not to mention, again, the feature itself could use a new transfer.

Wall Street is a good movie, but it weighs on the spirit like a dead weight. It's not that I mind a dark movie, but Stone's film has a pre-determined outcome from frame one, and the rest of the film is like watching Bud at the end of the meal line during his last night on death row. Stone has no hope to offer these characters (nor would he offer any if he did), and as good as the acting is, it's defeating to watch a generally decent person like Bud get eaten alive while the director, and movie as a whole, watch him go, as if they want to teach the viewer a lesson. The DVD itself is a cheap cash-in, done incompetently to boot, so this new edition earns a rental at best.

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