Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps suffers from remarkably misguided creative decisions

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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Directed by Oliver Stone

Simultaneously doom-laden and hopelessly naive, Oliver Stone’s unsolicited follow-up to his mostly well-regarded 1987 flick Wall Street might be wider in scope than its predecessor, folding in around a dozen characters and attempting to assign both blame and explanation for the ongoing financial crisis that’s still wreaking havoc on employment lines, but it lacks the simple dramatic frisson offered by that film’s ideological clash, instead opting for an attempted thematic panorama that feels rambling, unfocused and completely artificial.

Principally set in (slightly) pre-crash NYC,  the laughably subtitled sequel stars Shia LaBoeuf as Jake Moore, a highly successful and intuitive young trader whose girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) happens to be Wall Street fiend Gordon Gekko’s (a returning Michael Douglas) estranged daughter. Also in the mix: an aging, increasingly pessimistic firm head (Frank Langella); Jake’s chancy real-estate agent mother (Susan Sarandon), and a voracious moneymaker who takes Moore under his wing (Josh Brolin).

For a movie whose aim is to comment on the current financial crisis, Money spends an awful lot of time and energy on relationships whose dynamics are all too familiar. As the elder Gekko tries to re-enter his daughter’s life, Mulligan is doomed to spend nearly all of the film either upset or outright teary-eyed, either over her boyfriend’s callous profession or her father’s conniving. The scenes between LaBoeuf and Sarandon are demeaning, with the veteran actress as a strawman/stand-in for any and all Americans who are hung up on a defunct business model. The mentor-pupil relationships between LaBoeuf and, respectively, the tortured Langella and the villainous Brolin are similarly rote. In fact, the only relationship that rings true is the briefly indulged rivalry between Brolin and Douglas; in fact, their one true interaction at a ritzy fundraiser contains more of a spark than the entire rest of the film, something that’s helped along by Brolin’s expert evocation of smug, privileged impatience.

The film also suffers from two remarkably misguided creative decisions. First, the use of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s collaborative pop album as the principal source of music for much of the film is incredibly ill-fitting, giving what should be a dread-filled, unsettled film a bouncy buoyancy that feels sickly and wrong, and can’t work ironically since Stone’s movie is so consistently pious and po-faced. Even more distracting, though, is the editing; spotlights, useless split-screens, cartoonish superimposition, and several ill-conceived attempts to make schematics and numbers seem exciting through 1999’s most cutting-edge computer graphics are best left forgotten.

Most damning of all, though, is Stone’s attempt to reconcile his bilious feeling for current high-finance culture with the film’s overarching themes of family, hope and redemption. While the film’s first two acts are reasonably consistent in their cataloging of corporate malfeasance, the closing half-hour is a mess of arbitrary character decisions, misty-eyed sentimentalism, and a postscript that echoes that tome of nuanced humanism, Depeche Mode’s “People are People.” At least Gahan and company managed to keep it to three minutes; Stone’s film seems to stretch out endlessly in search of a satisfying conclusion and timely relevance, but can only find soap-opera contrivance.

Simon Howell

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