Twenty-three years after Oliver Stone laid bare the excesses and everyday corruptions of the Eighties with "Wall Street", he is doing it again with a film that is as much a stand-alone film as it is a sequel. Michael Douglas is back as the slimy Gordon Gecko, whose catchphrase "Greed is good" inspired a generation of bankers. With his release from jail, he has aged and may have even turned over a new leaf.
Gecko has released a book "Is Greed Good" and has taken young banker Jake (Shia LaBeouf) under his wing. Jake is getting married to Gecko's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Together they avenge themselves against Bretton James (Josh Brolin) who may have brought about both Gecko's imprisonment and the collapse of Jake's bank.
Like most of Oliver Stone's historical films, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps mixes fiction and non-fiction. The insight into the finagling of every businessman in the film highlights the inevitability of the coming economic downturn. When it arrives, the events of late September 2008 are evocatively portrayed with a mix of real and staged footage. These are easily the best parts of the film and act as a good reminder that Stone used to make really powerful films like "JFK". The problem is that, before this sequence and after, you could be forgiven for forgetting.
The performances are mixed. Brolin stands out in a memorably slimy role and Douglas is given at least one good speech. Frank Langella is good but his world-weary managing director is a step down from his fantastic performance as Nixon in "Frost/ Nixon". LaBeouf and Mulligan are rather bland as a couple in over their heads.
The film is oddly lackadaisical, with the good scenes almost alternating with the bad. Watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, you are not quite sure whether Stone is trying to be serious or is playing for laughs. Stone himself cameos, once in a comedy scene and once in a serious scene. The film is at its best when it takes on a pessimistic tone, detailing how these bankers and businessmen might just be bringing about the end of civilisation. However, in many sequences, it takes the cloudy-eyed perspective of the Hollywood Ending, where everything works out nicely and everyone bad gets their comeuppance. Then there's a motorcycle race or a Brian Eno music video thrown in. Stone doesn't seem sure if he wants to make a film that will call for reform or a stylish wallow in the corruption of the American economic system. It seems that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps just can't take itself seriously. Even the title is silly.
By turns powerful and laughable, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the tame work of a director who used to be one of the most controversial filmmakers in American cinema. You leave the film, not wondering what can be done about this shameful situation, but wondering whether Stone has lost his touch or does he just not care anymore.