On DVD: ‘Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps’
When watching just about every Oliver Stone film since Platoon, I find myself thinking that he would make a great documentarian. He has a keen eye for detailed information and possesses the intellect to put pieces together in fascinating and sometimes even convincing ways. He’s probably capable of producing an examination of the recent financial collapse as incisive and probably more engaging than the Oscar-winning doc Inside Job, and it would eliminate the need to tack on a rote human drama that feels petty and inconsequential when paired with a thoroughly believable chronicle of what may by the first quake in a worldwide economic apocalypse. Because, strangely enough, its the human drama that scuttles his sequel to Wall Street. The sad-eyed domestic squabbles of a young rich couple who come out a tiny bit less young and a tiny bit less rich just doesn’t hold the viewer’s attention when propped up against Stone’s well-rendered backdrop of the 2o08 crisis, or even when pitted against the still-formidable shadow of Gordon Gecko, that infamous cinematic creation brought back in sleazy splendor by Michael Douglas.
Shia LeBeouf, who possesses a screen presence and unique charm greater than the sum of his recent script choices, plays a young and talented investment banker working for a big-deal investment firm ( a stand-in for the doomed Lehman Brothers). The beginning of the films borders on brilliant, as Stone uses his young novice’s perspective to watch the collapse of the supposedly unsinkable firm from the inside. It’s rousing and terrifying stuff, considering its real-life origins, but the film quickly drifts off into personal drama that just doesn’t carry enough weight. LeBeouf’s number-cruncher has a earthy heart for environmentalism, advocating investment in cold fusion technology. An admirable interest, but it never feels authentic. Neither does his relationship with Carey Mulligan’s character, a liberal blogger who happens to be the daughter of Gorden Gecko, recently released from prison and peddling a book on why he believes the world is fucked from a financial perspective.
Gecko is still an all-time great screen creation, a wondrous deomonstration of the kind of iconic character work movies can do. And when he’s on screen, even if its in forced reconciliation attempts with his estranged daughter, he’s dynamite. Michael Douglas slips back into the roll with ease, and it’s remarkable how, though mostly unchanged from a moral perspective, he seems a pedestrian bad guy compared to the heirs to his money model. “I’m small time compared to these crooks,” he says, and it’s all too easy to believe him.
But he can’t keep the film afloat as a complete work. There are too many predictable and uninteresting character concerns that seem much less important to the director than casting his lens on the Wall Street meltdown and its future implications. The problems of his characters just don’t adequately convey the warning buried within his film, instead forcing standard-definition melodrama (and a cheesy title) on some high-def economic observations.