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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

October 4, 2010

Wall Street II
Greed is… complicated?

by Scott Klocksin, Arts and Entertainment Editor of The Hunter Envoy

In September of 2008, the bottom finally fell out. I was in my first few weeks back in college after a long hiatus. As I checked Facebook and buried my head in reading, four miles downtown grown men in suits wept openly.

Opulent fortunes dissolved with the transfer of a few ones and zeros like so much digital fairy dust blown into oblivion. It was a moment of profound alienation and confusion for me.

Apparently it was one of inspiration for Oliver Stone. Twenty-three years after he made Wall Street, Twentieth Century Fox has released Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps.

We are deposited a few months before the tumult of 2008 into the life of Jake Moore, (Shia Lebeouf), a young Wall Streeter who loves a good fight. Jake, like his predecessor Bob Fox in the original Wall Street, is on the rise in his firm and has the attention of his era’s latter-day robber barons.

Gordon Gekko, the villain of the last film, is released from prison for insider trading in the opening sequence of this one. Jake’s fiancé, Winnie (Carrie Mulligan) is Gekko’s estranged daughter. How convenient. Like so much about this film, it’s a brick in the wall of the story that conforms too neatly to a flawless template, with the draftsman’s hand glaringly present.

But without this little contrivance, a deftly stitched narrative cloth would unravel, because most of the movie is about Gekko’s quest to reconnect with Winnie.

That a hardened Machiavellian should do an about-face to embark on an emotional journey rooted in personal redemption, belies the rather pat “greed is bad” thesis of the original film and arcs toward a theme that shows itself throughout this one: people are complicated.

Jake is complicated too. He uses his connection to Gekko to try to outmaneuver the bigwigs who control the $100 million needed to help a green energy company get off the ground. He is a shrewd and rapacious businessman no less than a fiercely principled steward of the planet. His relationship with Winnie is complex too, although little is done to explain what she, the editor of a left-wing blog and an avowed enemy of the financial elite, would find in an ambitious young finance man.

The trouble with building a story around characters whose own motivations often clash is, well, their motivations clash. Which is fine if you’re writing for an audience of cultivated sophists who go for that kind of thing. But it’s problematic at best, and despotic at worst, in the context of a neatly tied-up story that clings to a desire to leave audiences feeling satiated rather than intellectually agitated. As has been typical in Stone’s oeuvre, we are given some rather juicy themes and interesting political background to munch on along with our popcorn, but a dogged insistence on adhering to Hollywood’s hallowed conventions of genre and plot do much to sour the whole meal.

A version of this review will also be printed in the issue of The Envoy dated October 6, 2010.

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