Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps review

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Gordon Gecko is the exact same man as the business man put away in prison at the end of 1987's Wall Street. Sauntering out of the big house in 2001 with a gold watch, gold money clip, and a cell phone as big as a shoe, he's the same man we left behind: a businessman who will do anything for the bottom dollar. It's a new millennium, a new economy, but the same business practices.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is probably one of the most apt titles of any film I've seen this year (well, short of Piranha 3D), with a plot that follows revolves around the lives of those who are intimately familiar with the loans and risks leading to the market collapse of 2008. Money Never Sleeps, while slightly too long, is certainly the most entertaining representation of this market crash. It is definitely fascinating to see a fictional telling of how we lead up to the market burst, and while it is not exactly the truth, there is enough in here to make any hard working person's blood boil.

It's not exactly a hard plot to follow. Gekko (Micheal Douglas), now out of prison, is approached by one Mr. Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) for advice and assistance. A young and upcoming business man, Jacob just so happens to be engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). A major proponent of funding a new source of clean energy with a breakthrough in nuclear fusion, Jacob is on the up and up until his bank collapses. After the resulting suicide of Jacob's long time mentor and father figure Louis (Frank Langella), the next two hours director Oliver Stone weaves a story of fiscal revenge on the part of Jacob against the man who destroyed his agency and killed his friend, with a side-plot on the rebuilt relationship between the Gekko family and the impending marriage between the young couple.

LeBeouf's turn as the hero Jacob is not bad, and he gives a fairly interesting performance of a young man pulled by wealth, love, and ideals. Sometimes he comes off as too young for the role he's filling, but like every other film LeBeouf acts in, he throws himself at the role with gusto. Mulligan herself deserves props as well. She's an incredibly talented and lovely actress, and it's a pleasure to see her outside of period pieces. Unfortunately, the relationship between Gekko and Winnie is flat, with no real father/daughter connection between the two--one minute she's angry, and the next she's a forgiving child, even in the face of her selfish pig of a father. It honestly makes no sense, and is a weak element of the plot.

Unfortunately, there is a bigger problem with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: nearly every character is a disgusting person incapable of taking their eyes off of wealth. In between rectifying Gordon Gekko's famous quote that “greed is good,” no one seems to feel the consequences for corrupt money laundering or behind the scenes trading. Pretty much everyone, even our protagonist Jacob, has no qualms with breaking the law. Even the most redeeming character, Winnie--who in addition to being Jacob's fiance, is an ardent left-wing journalist--is oddly hypocritical. She's clearly very wealthy, and while she spouts the virtues of left wing philosophy, she still benefits from the wealth of her partner and family.

One could probably criticize me for complaining about the film for the merits of its content, not for the quality of the film. To this I say that they are probably right, but I stand by that Money Never Sleeps is almost offensive in it's glorification of greed. Yep, there are certainly worse men than Jacob, exemplified by the money grubbing billionaire Bretton James (Josh Brolin), but even Jacob, with his drive to fund green energy, is driven by a very different definition of “green”. In the worst economic collapse in decades, how can we as a population feeling the full affect of a recession stand behind a character who lives in an expensive loft in lower Manhattan and, *spoiler alert*, ends up still rich and still happy in a loft apartment in Lower Manhattan? There is nothing “everyman” about Jacob. He's a selfish, vindictive human being that is actually no better than the men he brings down, and everything he does good is for his own selfish needs.

And for the original antagonist, Gekko himself? He comes sauntering in like some oracle, spouting the reality of the impending housing bubble burst while his true colors indicate solipsistic narcissism is the way to be successful. Sure, he was a scummy bad guy in the first film, and this time around Oliver Stone seems to want to paint him like some redeemable anti-hero. It's gross to say the least.

The fantastic part is that Stone works through a script that likes to pretend that it makes some sort commentary on the pursuit of money. Gekko likes to say money is a mistress that will take and take until she's left you alone and miserable, and Jacob's idol and mentor spouts off about how Jacob should marry Winnie and leave the industry. These would be great messages if Jacob actually followed through, abandons the lifestyle and career that, in the real world, destroyed the lives and jobs of thousands of people across the globe.

Instead, Jacob is able to bake his cake and eat it too. There's no virtue to his character. Instead, there is an arrogance and an ignorance to the lives of real people, who are reduced to numbers and tertiary figures. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is about the lives of the very rich, a glorification of that ideal which crippled this country. Yes, it's entertaining for the time spent, but 133 minutes of cheering the rich and wealthy to stay rich and wealthy, that's more than I can handle.

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Ben PerLee
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