As our story opens, Mr. Gekko is being released from his 8-year run at Sing Sing, the joint we left him in. He has a 2-day beard. No one's waiting at the gate. But wait, Gordon is sporting a very cool, high-dollar Hollywood man-cut. My gawd, it's Gordon Gekko with hair just like Michael Douglas'. Apparently, with all those great stylists at Sing Sing, there's never a bad hair day to be had. Who knew?
Gekko, soon back at the heart of Finance City, meets up with a young Wall Streeter named Jacob (Shia LeBeouf), who, to give the picture a sense of hope, is pumped for green energy profiteering. Gordon appears to be down-shifting into a redemptive gear, what with writing a book he's titled, "Is Greed Good?"---and, oh yes, selling it at a healthy price.
Jacob is also bunking with Gekko's daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who has demurred contact with daddy since her brother's suicide. "Dad not only scams people, big time, but causes his male offspring to end it all," is the thought running through Winne's pretty and hip little head.
A business built by Louis, Jacob's mentor, collapses. The elderly Wall Streeter, played by Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), takes a swan dive in front of an oncoming subway. Louis' brokerage house is patterned after the real demise of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in March, 2008 during the final year of President Bush's second term.
Meanwhile, replacing Javier Bardem in the role of Bretton, Josh Brolin plays a hedge fund manager (Bardem, at the time, went on to eating, praying and loving with Julia Roberts). Bad guy Bretton has evidently floated rumors that have thrown Louis' firm into the financial breach, driving Louis to the drastic act.
If that's not enough to get tempers flaring and plot-twists twirling, are you in for a surprise.
Yes, surprised...to find...that "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is quite a ponderous and uneven feature-length film that plays like three old "Dynasty" TV episodes strung together, but with all the update-dots connected since our '08 money problems kicked in. I can see a new television series already: "The Carringtons Meet the Madoffs." Electrifying.
On occasion, Stone gets nutty with graphic and visual effects seemingly employed to goose the pace and give "Never Sleeps" a zip of youthful "I'll Get Mine-ism." Yip, money never sleeps and the camera is never still, especially in torturous meetings around gigantic boardroom tables with key people at them discussing how much bailout money they can get from the Fed. You know (?) ... socialism!
Maybe the reason for the visual mobility is the way Alan Loeb and Stephen Schiff wrote the dialogue. Well-crafted words for a film don't need an acrobatic camera to make them work. "Never Sleeps" never fails to assail with strings of financialese which only your friendly neighborhood stockbroker, banker or hedge fund manager can accurately translate.
Verbal authenticity is neat, you betcha, but when applied to a host of acquisitive, arrogant professionals ensconced along Wall Street in a narrative that wants you to primarily appreciate the, now, anti-hero nature of a high-toned, ex-con, scam artist who, maybe, has come around to decency (but not yet getting it)...esoteric language to make-it-real has little impact.
Seldom do I utter negative thoughts about film music, but here, I must also chime in: the music in this movie is awful. None of it fits---like it has a hidden agenda.
Other than Mr. Douglas, whom I wish the very best with his recently announced medical issue, the casting is uneven too. LeBeouf looks underage and tenuous as Jacob, showing sparks of the brave new capitalist only in scenes with his male colleagues. Alone on screen with Mulligan, he's a wuss.
Ms. Mulligan wowed me in "An Education," but here, she's not right as a sensitive, young, perceptive, rich woman because... Mulligan doesn't exude the sophisticated glamour shown by other female characters in the film. For that, Mulligan "stands out," by not blending in and wearing apparel that looks like the music sounds.
Douglas' Gekko gives a stirring lecture early in the film. It's part of the sell for Gordon's book. We get it the new author has long been predicting the financial quake of late '08 and its after shocks now shivering the Obama Administration. Gordo's spiel ratifies the notion there is no Gordon Gekko without Michael Douglas.
Kirk Douglas has surely influenced his son to draw a fine bead on this now celebrated fictional character of the cinema most everyone loves to hate. If you want to see how compelling a young Kirk Douglas was, watch him in 1964's "Seven Days in May" with his late actor colleague, Burt Lancaster.
Another elderly actor still kicking, Eli Wallach (less than five years from being a century old), is seen again in a small role as a Wall Street dean. Another good job, Eli. Keep it up, dude. Wallach cameoed in Roman Polanksi's recent film, "The Ghost Writer." Remember Eli with Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire," released six decades ago?
Josh Brolin's ("No Country for Old Men", "W", "Jonah Hex", "American Gangster") Bretton is a shinier example of "Never Sleep's" casting. Appropriately oleaginous, Bretton vies to replace Gekko as the villain of the piece, while Susan Sarandon, as Jacob's real-estate-lady-mom, makes brief and penetrating turns in an eastern-accented dialect. It's good, but she (as in "The Lovely Bones") seems forced. There should have been more of her as the mother, but with slightly less intensity.
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" would be more intense if, during the moments when the Wall Street people are on the phone pleading "bailout" from the DC feds, Stone would've also shown the DC side of the conversation and given up the identity of those characters, too, even if all the names were changed to protect the uh..."innocent."
Writing this occurs several days before the review can be posted; when the embargo is lifted by the releasing studio. But surfing about, I've picked up early chatter on Stone's "Never Sleeps" and want to share a bit of what an anonymous cyber-kibitzer had to say after seeing an even earlier screening.
Hmmm, "awesome," in this usage, always chafes me a little, and what is said sounds a little overboard, but the cyber-kibitzer might be on to something. See "Wall Street-2" for yourself and make your own decision. And: Wrong...! The anonymous quotation isn't from the Ghost of Orwell.
Opens Friday, 9/24. See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.