The old story of the scorpion and the frog reminds us that those who are inclined to villainy will act in that way. But it’s always a bad thing when a villain is presented in the role of a hero.
Gordon Gekko is a character that captured the spirit of the times back in the late ’80s. His mantra, “Greed is good,” became a rallying cry for seemingly many who lived out the excesses of that decade.
With that back story and the reality of what has happened to the economy in the last few years, you would think “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” would offer insight into the why and how of economic collapse.
Yes, there are many bestsellers out that tell the story of what brought down our economy. Truth be told, more people will go see a movie than read a book. Surely, director Oliver Stone would treat us to some sort of insight about this big mess we have gotten ourselves into. Sadly, he doesn’t.
The sequel to the 1987 film instead attempts to tell a love story using the collapse as a backdrop. It would at least have been nice if we saw how love grew from the ruins, but we don’t get that either.
What we have instead is a story in which one of the best movie villains gets soft around the edges and is positioned to be a hero. But he still can hurt and sting because that is his nature.
Gekko (Michael Douglas) is unceremoniously released from prison. It is 2008, just before the bubble of the subprime mortgage boom is about to burst, and Gekko becomes a prophet of doom, earning a bit of money from his new book.
Into the story comes Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), an up-and-comer on Wall Street. Jake is in love with Gordon’s daughter, Winnie (Casey Mulligan). Jake knows of the strain between father and daughter, and he wants to bring them together.
Subplot: Jake works at the firm of Wall Street workhorse Lou Zabel (Frank Langella). Rumors are flying about the firm – rumors authored by Bretton James (Josh Brolin), whose firm was hurt by Zabel when the tech stock bubble burst in the ’90s. James gleefully watches as Zabel’s firm goes under; James then picks up the pieces left for pennies on the dollar.
Because Lou gave Jake his start, Jake begins searching for a way to take Bretton down. This means he must get more involved with Gordon, for Gordon knows Bretton’s past – and Gordon, too, has a score to settle with Bretton.
This movie, though, is tired. There is nothing new here, not even for Gekko. He may have mellowed slightly, but he still wants to get back what he had and to bring down people along the way.
I suppose that’s the lesson: Wall Street types will do anything to get ahead. And maybe it’s not even about the money so much as it is the revenge. You may be atop a heap of ruins, but at least be on top. That’s the goal, and it doesn’t matter how many people, big or small, get hurt.
In the end, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a sad and weak reflection of its predecessor. The love story is too weak, the vengefulness too tired.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements.
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Cast: Michael Douglas: Gordon Gekko; Shia LaBeouf: Jake Moore; Josh Brolin: Bretton James; Carey Mulligan: Winnie Gekko; Frank Langella: Lou Zabel; Susan Sarandon: Jake’s mother.
The movie’s Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.