'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements
Runtime: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Bottomline: A worth but not quite equal sequel
At first glance, Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" seems to be hitting the market at exactly the right moment. But the timing might not be perfect after all.
"Money Never Sleeps" is set against a backdrop we all know painfully well: the ongoing global economic recession. It hasn't quite hit yet, though, as the movie opens. Big brokerage houses are asking for bailouts, and the entire Street is on the verge of collapse.
Within that setting, Shia LeBeouf plays Jake Moore, a promising, ambitious broker who is betting his future on a clean energy company. And he just happens to be dating Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), daughter of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
You remember Gordon. He coined the phrase "Greed is good" then got sent to prison in the first "Wall Street." Gordon has now done his time and wants back into the game. When Jake tries to forge a relationship with his future father-in-law, Gordon may have found a way back in.
For much of the film, we aren't sure whether Gordon is sincerely mentoring Jake, using Jake to rebuild a genuine relationship with Winnie, or callously using Jake to exact revenge on his longtime rival, Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Is he still the personification of greed, or has prison reformed him?
This guessing game makes "Money Never Sleeps" a fine economic espionage yarn, up to a point.
Now, before I say some less-than-complimentary things about this movie, let's put things into perspective. This is a smart, expertly made film for adults. Stone is still a master craftsman and artful storyteller. It may not live up to the hype, but it's still better than most 2010 releases.
The argument isn't whether "Money Never Sleeps" is worth seeing-it is-but whether it packs the power of its classic predecessor.
The original seemed to blow the lid off a secret world. We walked step-by-step with wide-eyed outsider Bud Fox as he became a Master of the Universe, and we felt like we were peering behind the curtain at the men pulling the strings of the economy. We hadn't seen that world before, and it was both alluring and appalling.
By now, though, the secrets lying behind the gilded facades of Wall Street have all been revealed, and they are no longer sexy in the least.
The film attempts to explain, in part, how we sunk into the current mess, but that's when the movie seems least necessary. We all know how we got here, and ironically, the original "Wall Street" helped us understand it. It was greed, pure and simple.
There aren't any big revelations in "Money Never Sleeps," because by now we've analyzed the situation to death.
Maybe the movie arrives too soon. Maybe we're all still feeling the pain of the recession too strongly to find the world of "Money Never Sleeps" interesting. I could understand how Bud Fox could be seduced by Gordon Gekko, but I felt much less sympathy for Jake Moore. Why didn't he learn the same lessons from the first film that we did?
Or maybe Stone plays too nice. This is probably an immoral attitude, but I wanted to see the financial guys suffer. Like, huddled in Battery Park, shivering in torn Armani suits while they contract pneumonia suffering. Or tied to the columns of the Federal Building so we can all take turns throwing sharp objects at them suffering. At least some sort of indignity.
But ultimately, that is the sad lesson of "Money Never Sleeps." We all know that the people who pushed us into this recession didn't suffer those fates or any others that would have fit their crimes.
"Money Never Sleeps" is like a blue chip stock. It's a reliable investment that pays what we expect it to. And while we don't learn anything new from the film, recent history argues that maybe we could use a reminder about the evils of economic corruption.
Bottomline: A worthy but not quite equal sequel
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.