It feels almost sacrilegious not to laud Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, in the wake of Michael Douglas’s recent diagnosis of stage four throat cancer. Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I honestly found myself dozing off during the 2 hour and 15 minute film. It was a matinee, so I couldn’t really blame the late hour. Could it have been the convoluted plot?
Seeing Douglas in the Gordon Gekko role, newly reformed after serving an 8-year prison term for what he called “a victimless crime” strains credulity. Pass it off to my Wall Street career, but last I heard, insider trading hurts lots of people – if only because they don’t have access to information that makes the fat cats fatter while the pitiful portfolios of the peons get smaller.
Shia LaBeouf plays Jake Moore, the good cop to Gekko’s redemptive soul. Jake is engaged to marry Gekko’s daughter, Winnie, played by Carey Mulligan, who no longer speaks to her father, blaming him for her younger brother’s death from drug addiction because Gekko wasn’t around. Sorry, but blaming parents for all of life’s mishaps is a tired story, and forgiving imperfect parents often gets second shrift.
Jake is a protégé of Lou Zabel, played by Frank Langella, who sort of reminds us of a nice, benevolent Lehman executive (yes, this may be an oxymoron) who couldn’t seem to come to terms with the new rules of the game. Langella is stellar and totally believable in the role the of old school banker facing personal and professional ruin, and he delivers a moral lesson that seems apt in the wake of the financial meltdown. Jake, bent on avenging his mentor’s ruination, partners with Gekko who is looking to get back in the money game. Everybody’s nemesis is the predatory Bretton James, slickly portrayed by Josh Brolin. Too perfect by half, one is blinded by his whitened teeth and perfect wife at the obligatory charity benefit designed to redeem his soul.
The actors are terrific, but figuring out the plot takes some doing, and the denouement seems to come out of nowhere. Michael Douglas lives up to the Gekko role, changing his appearance a couple of times to subtly tell us what he’s up to. (I liked his prison look the best – so honest and straightforward.) The surprise turn at the end lets us know he may be back, and the speech he delivers at the end supposedly ties it all together, finally. As the credits began, I found myself wondering what really happened. Sorry, Michael. We hope you have a complete recovery, and that you’ll get a better role next time.