"Wall Street" a powerfully told sequel

Fri May 14, 2010 5:25pm EDT
 
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Oliver Stone's 1987 film "Wall Street" took viewers into an exotic world. Those were the days when financial news occupied the gray back pages of newspapers. Suddenly, here was a movie about banking that looked like a thriller -- traders talked a mile a minute, brokers did deals between gulps of coffee, millions of dollars moved in the twinkling of an eye, people talked on cell phones (albeit the size of a brick), and men could change destiny through insider trading. You also learned that, in the by-now iconic phrase uttered by its antihero, Gordon Gekko, "greed is good."

Stone returns to this world in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," but there's nothing exotic about it anymore. It's featured on the nightly news in every unemployment statistic and freshly announced corporate downsizing. The bank bailout debate still rages, and arrogant banking kingpins looks less like antiheroes than out-and-out villains.

So Stone and his savvy writers, Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, have crafted a tale that takes advantage of viewers' newfound knowledge and cynicism. At its heart is a pair of good young people wanting to put money into green energy while all around them there revolves, like an evil planetary system, gravitational forces that know only unregulated (in every sense of the word) chicanery.

"Money Never Sleeps" is that rare sequel that took its time -- 23 years -- so it not only advances a story but also has something new to say. The film overheats now and then, but blame this on filmmaking passion. One senses a fully engaged filmmaker at the helm, driving the movie at a lightning pace as if in a hurry to get to the next scene or next aphorism that further illuminates this dark world.

How audiences will react to revelations that may no longer be revelations is hard to say. But Stone has cast his movie well with Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin and Carey Mulligan to attract younger viewers while Michael Douglas' return as Gekko can't help being a major lure. The 20th Century Fox film, which premiered out of competition at the Cannes festival, opens in the fall.

Wisely, Gekko becomes a subplot. While the opening sequence details his release from prison in 2001, along with some good jokes about that ancient cell phone and the limo that pulls up being for a rapper, not him, the story settles quickly on a young proprietary trader, Jake Moore (LaBeouf), who just happens to be in love with Winnie Gekko (Mulligan), Gordon's estranged daughter.

The focus thus shifts to the pre-2008 bubble, where Jake gets caught off-guard by a meltdown in his own investment banking firm. Its head and his mentor (Frank Langella) takes a huge fall when a governmental bailout never materializes and an old nemesis, Bretton James (Brolin), a partner in a rival bank, pounces on the firm like a vulture smelling carrion.

Jake finds a small way to get revenge for his old boss, which catches James' attention. Rather than settle the score, James offers Jake a job. Which only postpones Jake's determination to avenge his mentor.   Continued...