30 January 2011

DVD Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


The original “Wall Street” was a fanged and unforgiving motion picture, directed with guts by a then fairly fresh faced Oliver Stone. The film’s 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a much less cutting affair, instead rejecting uncompromising truths in favour of something softer and more digestible. It’s a competently executed and well acted piece, but the legendarily immoral beats that populated the initial 1987 effort are in much shorter supply.

“Money Never Sleeps” is set in 2008, the screenplay working its way toward the financial crisis that would later cripple the economy. Jake (Shia LaBeouf, better than he has been for sometime) is a promising young broker and the boyfriend of Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan), the resentful daughter of a now released Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Jake’s employer Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) has found himself in a bad way, his firm’s financial situation virtually unfixable, the only out being a humiliating deal offered by snide rival Bretton James (Josh Brolin). As a result Zabel kills himself, leaving a distraught Jake hungry for vengeance. Jake finds a friend in Gordon, the two striking a deal. If Jake will help repair Gordon’s fractured relationship with Winnie, the once powerful Wall Street predator will find a way to tackle the reprehensible James.

The character of Gordon Gekko is still fascinating, all of “Money Never Sleeps” most interesting components deriving from the master manipulator. Douglas once again gets into the character’s skin, cultivating a sense of trust whilst always hinting at a potential streak of villainy. His development as a character is well chronicled in “Money Never Sleeps”, this time Gekko’s conscience is much more prominent. There’s a genuine chemistry between LaBeouf and Douglas, their onscreen dynamic is suitably different from that Douglas shared with Charlie Sheen in the 1987 picture. Jake is a more morally astute figure, aware for the most part that Gekko needs to be monitored. As a result there’s an equality to the relationship, both men pivotal to the accomplishment of their individual goals. This was obviously not evident in “Wall Street”, and represents a nice change of pace for the unlikely franchise. Also modestly successful is the depiction of Gekko’s redemptive desires concerning his damaged daughter (played efficiently by an underutilized Mulligan), and how his emotional input once again unsettles her life.

With Gekko shoved onto a more amoral playing field, the outright bad guy here is Bretton James, portrayed effectively by Josh Brolin. Brolin isn’t as magnetic and tricky as Douglas was in “Wall Street”, but he brings enough boorish and malevolent inconsideration to the part for audiences to easily loathe his character. James seems to be Stone’s interpretation of “Greed 2.0”, an exaggerated and even nastier financial tyrant for this modern world. Stone’s analysis of the 2008 crash is something of a mixed bag, it allows for some tension and enjoyable twists, but the actual event itself is slipped into the film rather clumsily. The financial mumbo-jumbo that befuddled viewers in 1987 is still evident, although this time around Stone feels the need to fill the movie with explanatory diagrams and overbearing “bubble” metaphors. These visual additions feel lazy and weak, especially an explanation of fusion theory that appears to have been robbed directly out of an overly colourful children’s textbook. It looks like it belongs in a different film.

The storyline rattles along nicely, it’s a little messy in spots, but on the whole the central narrative is entertaining enough. Stone clearly doesn’t have the same thirst for blood that he possessed in 1987 and it shows, “Money Never Sleeps” never seems as focused on dissecting and uncovering the vile voracity that its predecessor is now renowned for. The backstabbing that goes on is compelling, but it lacks the same remorseless spark and cheeky ingenuity that rendered the initial picture so iconic. Indeed the family subplot that filters through “Money Never Sleeps” is more inspired than any of the material revolving around the economic downturn, a fact likely to surprise fans of Stone’s earlier enterprise.

The project is lengthy yet never overlong, Stone managing to stave off boredom for the most part despite some of his sequel’s more glaring deficiencies. “Money Never Sleeps” is an adept and healthy feature, albeit a much less potent cocktail than its legacy might suggest. The finale of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is one of silver linings and hope, a fair distance from the bittersweet karma of its older brother. It’s a palatable climax but one lacking in cutthroat tenacity; indeed the conclusion sums up the picture rather perfectly.

This release comes equipped with a digital copy (always useful for masochists) and a short 8-minute feature entitled “Gordon Gekko is Back”. It’s brief but quite intriguing, as film critics, Stone and Douglas all examine and analyse the character’s success in the pop culture stratosphere. The video and audio capabilities presented are ample, Fox having done a particularly good job in the image department. The transfer has a reasonable amount of detail, and looks vibrant, avoiding soft spots or even mild distortion. It’s a technically sound disc, albeit more bonus features would’ve been nice.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from January 31st 2011

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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