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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Fox // PG-13 // December 21, 2010
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 28, 2010 | E-mail the Author
Twenty-three years ago, greed was good. Excess was a virtue. Now...? What passed for opulence a quarter-century ago barely passes as a rounding error now. Millionaires are a dime a dozen. Having in your grasp everything you ever wanted...ever could've dreamed of...isn't nearly enough. So long as someone else on the horizon has more, your life's fortune is of no consequence. You either have the
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largest war chest -- sport the highest market cap, wield the most power -- or you're a second-ran. You're a footnote. In the decades since Oliver Stone wrote and directed Wall Street, the world of high finance has mutated into something all but unrecognizable. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened to an insurmountable chasm. We're bombarded with more dizzying amounts of information than ever and in the slightest fraction of the time to boot. Seismic shifts in the market are now measured in minutes. Financial models are being written by physicists and mathematicians worlds removed from Wall Street, and the language now consists of a series of arcane acronyms and inexplicable manuevers like measuring losses as profits. These sprawling financial institutions -- in a country where six banks alone have assets equivalent to 60% of our gross national product! -- take massive risks to achieve the most massive profits, playing freely with other people's money and simply collecting cash from someone else when things do inevitably go south. There's not much to lose in trying to be wealthier and more bloated than everyone else; get big enough and the feds will likely decide failure isn't an option, cleaning up your mess for you and maybe even making you a hell of a lot of money in the process. It's a combination of greed, envy, and arrogance. In this era of financial collapse -- when the phrase "Wall Street" is on more people's lips than ever -- what better time for Oliver Stone to hammer out a sequel?

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
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decision that ultimately costs Moore everything.

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
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showman...a master manipulator...and he got to be in the position of power he enjoys by making everyone he speaks to feel as if he or she is the only other person in the room. Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, and Eli Wallach round out the ensemble, each with fiercely memorable turns.

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.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (29 min.; HD): The earliest cuts of Money Never Sleeps started with a different structure, beginning with the death of one character rather than gradually building up to it. That abandoned concept is offered here. There were also moments intended to add a working-class seasoning to the film -- to help ground it in a reality outside of Rich People with Rich People Problems -- and those excised snippets are featured in the deleted scenes reel as well. There's an entirely new subplot -- an investigatory angle about an AIG-like firm -- that Stone felt was inessential and needlessly confusing. The nightclub sequence with Jake and the other traders is greatly extended, and there's also a quick aftermath this time around. Jake helps take everyone on a tour of the ocean thermal energy plant he's been touting. There's another scene of Jake attempting to sell his loft along with many extended conversations between LeBeouf and seemingly everyone else in the ensemble. Oh, and there's a Donald Trump cameo that would've felt rather distracting in the final cut.

    This footage also features optional commentary by Oliver Stone.

  • Audio Commentary: Along with offering commentary for the half-hour of deleted scenes, Oliver Stone also contributes a commentary track for the film itself. Stone has no trouble shouldering the two hour-plus conversation by his lonesome, maintaining an engaging presence without any lulls of note. He's candid about the many problems that plagued pre-production, including some surprisingly sharp barbs about the perception of Fox within the industry. Stone also delves into the challenges of filming entirely on location in New York with no real cover sets and a relatively tight schedule/budget, all things considered, as well as the headaches with what looked to be a compressed post-production period. This is as much a commentary on the state of the United States' financial system as it is about Money Never Sleeps, and this is when Stone is at his most compelling. Very much worth setting aside the time to listen.

  • Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street (50 min.; HD): Approaching
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    feature-length, this series of featurettes compares and contrasts Wall Street with its followup, often seeming as if it's more interested in the original 1987 film than the one featured elsewhere on this Blu-ray disc. "Money, Money, Money" asks some of the same questions viewers might. Why make a sequel? What would it really have to say? The featurettes delve into the allure of Gordon Gekko as well as the climate of ostentatiousness and excess that defined the 1980s. There are contrasts of both the protagonists of the two Wall Streets along with the very different costume design. Veering away from the film itself, another segment focuses on the history of Wall Street and some of its most iconic landmarks. Finally, there's a discussion of how Wall Street has transformed -- very much for the worse -- over the past two decades, using the points made throughout Money Never Sleeps as punctuation.

  • Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character with... (26 min.; SD): Michael Douglas, Shia LeBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, and Frank Langella are briefly interviewed about their performances, with each segment averaging just over five minutes in length. Background research, Oliver Stone's encouragement of allowing the actors to help sculpt their characters, the necessity of a confident veneer, and Michael Douglas deliberately keeping himself at a distance from Carey Mulligan to further the gulf between the father and daughter they play are among the topics fielded here.

  • A Conversation with Oliver Stone and the cast of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (16 min.; HD): A title like that seems rather descriptive enough. Douglas, LeBeouf, Mulligan, and Brolin return again for this roundtable with Oliver Stone. The film's director speaks about how New York as a whole and Wall Street in particular have changed throughout the course of his life, and Stone also notes how a good business movie is ultimately about America...that this is a country where money inevitably dominates the conversation. There is some comparing and contrasting of Wall Street's Bud Fox with the sequel's Jacob Moore. Other highlights include the savvy that LeBeouf gained from his intensive research, the generational aspects of Money Never Sleeps, possible ways to repair government mishandling of the economy, and even a couple of quips about what might wind up in Wall Street 3.

  • Trailers (4 min.; HD): Also included are Money Never Sleeps' teaser and full theatrical trailer, both in high definition. A smattering of other high-def trailers are featured elsewhere on the disc.

  • BD Live: I intensely dislike the idea of exclusively presenting extras online if they've clearly been prepared beforehand and don't take advantage of any online interactivity. It's inconvenient for viewers who do have their players hooked up to the Internet and obviously makes these extras completely inaccessible to those who don't. Who wants this? What purpose does it serve? There's a four minute featurette about a cameo appearance from a character carried over from the original Wall Street, and it's the latest in Fox's many misguided attempts to do something with BD Live. Oh well. On a more positive note is the 'Live Lookup' feature, which is basically a gateway to the IMDb while you're watching the film.

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.
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