'Wall Street': The Crash, According to Oliver Stone

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20th Century Fox


Oliver Stone's new movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, opens with a man having his personal effects restored to him as he is released from prison: "One silk handkerchief. One necktie. One watch. One ring." I confess I half-expected this accounting to culminate with the punch line that Frank Oz offered John Belushi under identical circumstances at the beginning of The Blues Brothers: "One unused prophylactic..."—a wrinkle of the nose, the adoption of tweezers—"one soiled."

Alas, there's no Joliet Jake here, no Elwood waiting in a retired police cruiser, no anticipatory thrum of "She Caught the Katy." As the title suggests, this sequel is a nostalgia trip through a different economic bracket altogether.

The felon in question is corporate raider Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), last seen as the embodiment of amok capitalism in Stone's 1987 film Wall Street. But prison has apparently reprogrammed Gekko, who returns, Schwarzenegger-like, as a "good" high-finance Terminator promising to help a young hero (Shia LaBeouf) combat the rise of the newer, sleeker model (Josh Brolin). Gekko has retired his iconic catchphrase, "Greed is good," and he will spend the remainder of the movie crisscrossing the econo-moral spectrum in search of a new one ("when I was away, it seems greed got greedier"; "money's the bitch that never sleeps"; "a fisherman always sees another fisherman from afar"; "it's not about the money, it's about the game"). Between test-driving such mottos, he gives speeches decrying the destructive and unsustainable nature of American banking to bait-breathed financial aspirants.

One such is Jacob Moore (LaBeouf), a young trader teetering between idealism (his fiancée calls him "Mr. Green Energy") and avarice ("the only green is money," he retorts). Fans of the first Wall Street will recall that this is precisely the narrative role filled by Charlie Sheen last time around. (Yes, the fact that concepts such as "Charlie Sheen" and "innocence" might ever have coexisted is a sad reminder of time's passage.) Though Sheen will appear in a brief, this-is-your-life cameo later in the film, he is otherwise absent, detained by his fractional obligations as two-fifths of Two and a Half Men.

The year is 2008, just before the Fall (in both senses). Jacob works for a small investment firm run by an old-school banker, Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella), who is befuddled by the changes in his profession. (At one point he asks, adorably, "How do you make money on losses?") The firm is in trouble, though it is initially unclear—at least to those who have never seen an Oliver Stone movie—whether its misfortune is due to negligence, bad luck, or Evil Forces Lurking in the Background. In any case, the firm soon collapses and is snatched up by predatory banker Bretton James (Brolin). Shortly thereafter, Zabel himself exits the film, after enjoying the most morally freighted bag of potato chips I believe I've ever seen. (That the paradigm of paternal decency and restraint embodied by Martin Sheen's blue-collar airline worker in the original Wall Street is now represented by a multimillionaire banker is perhaps the film's most pointed commentary on our times.)

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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