In the very first scene, this sequel to 1987’s decade-defining Wall Street
winks at the now-datedness of what came before. As the once-silky antihero and convicted insider trader Gordon Gekko (Douglas) departs from jail, he’s handed back what he came into the clink with: a pocket diorama of the Eighties by way of money clip, pinkie ring, and mobile phone the size of a brick. Gekko’s been out of the game a long time, and he feigns like he doesn’t want back in, not really. He’s written a book called Is Greed Good?
, tweaking the catchphrase that set the mouths of probably tens of thousands of future stockbrokers salivating. Of course, those hungry babes grew into the collective wrecking ball of the American financial system, circa right now
. Stone, with his writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, are smart to bring this sequel as near as possible to the immediate moment, and 2008’s market crash steers the course of the film. Still, is America really clamoring for this? Is now really a good time to call on affection for Gordon Gekko? Perhaps anticipating the general public’s general disgust for all things Wall Street, the screenwriters have made the lead of Money Never Sleeps
a young Turk with a conscience. Yes, Jacob (LaBeouf) wants to make big bucks, but mostly so he can help fund green energy research to gain the approval of his liberal blogger girlfriend, Winnie (Mulligan), who is also the estranged daughter of Gekko. LaBeouf plays Jacob as no naif – he can be as slippery and savage as the next suit – but there’s also real tenderness in his scenes with Mulligan and Langella (in a small but significant role as Jacob’s mentor). A lot of young actors might have interpreted the part as beginning and ending with a big swinging dick – isn’t that, as much as money, what got those baby brokers going? – but LaBeouf isn’t afraid to leak a few tears along the warpath. And make no mistake: This is war, all right, although it’s not entirely clear if Stone wants us rooting for any side to win. Never a subtle filmmaker, he razzmatazzes Money Never Sleeps
with graphics and camera effects that first dip, then finally face-splat into corniness. It’s unnecessary noise in a movie that’s already an enlivening and rather wickedly entertaining take on the occasional angels – but mostly demons – that ran the country into financial ruin. But the film is muddy-minded about who falls into which camp. “Greed got greedier,” Gekko explains to a rapt audience of young go-getters. They look at him like he’s a rock star – but so, too, does the film.