What makes the film enjoyable, not totally scary, experience
- Baby A. Gil () - October 14, 2010 - 12:00am

Film review: Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps

MANILA, Philippines - If like me you are still unable to understand the whys and wherefores of the economic crisis that engulfed the US last year, then you should watch Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (WS2). Director Oliver Stone offers no detailed explanations but his clever use of fast-paced editing of split screens and plunging numbers show why the financial meltdown caused terror that reverberated all over the world.

Well, not so much hereabouts, really. We were already so down, down, down. One or two more families turning homeless or a thousand more people losing their jobs were not likely to cause analysts to change their figures and drive the economy to panic. But out there in the US where over half a million people lost their jobs within a few weeks in New York City alone, you can just imagine how it must have felt with ordinary folks living in a fearful state of daily uncertainty.

I think of that and I remember Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Set during the Depression era of the 1930s, it was a book and also a film so hugely affecting, I am still unable to summon up the guts to watch or to read it again after so many years. Poverty, more so the instant, hopeless kind makes for excellent drama and I am sure we will come across stories set during the collapse of the US economy in 2007 and 2008 in the coming years.

The Joads of the new millennium will have to wait their turn on the screen though. This is because Stone has chosen to focus on the big guns responsible for the crisis and not on the people who felt its effects most in WS2. Why not, he has done it very successfully before. Wall Street from 1987 made corporate thieves sexy and the stock market exciting. Best of all, it introduced one of the screen’s most memorable villains in Gordon Gekko.

It is now 23 years since Gekko, again played by Michael Douglas, was handed jailtime for his stock market shenanigans. He is out and in the mood for atonement. He wants a relationship with his estranged daughter Winnie and he wants to tell people that unlike what he said before, greed is not really good. In fact, he is now on the lecture circuit talking about a book he has written titled Is Greed Good.

So jail has given Gekko morals, which is nice. We only see the old spark when young trader Jake Moore played by Shia LaBeouf hooks up with Gekko. Moore wants pointers on how to get back at raider Bretton James played by James Brolin, and also to reconcile his girlfriend who happens to be Winnie with her father. Should Gekko take the bait and make waves on Wall Street again or would held much rather be daddy and a preacher against greed?

And it is at this point that WS2 turned into a melodrama cum romance with Gekko as its unlikely moral center. Give the guy a break, he wrestled with his conscience for 20 years and lost. Still I cannot help but think of how this tale might have played out had Gekko escaped jail in 1987 and now returned as a major player on Wall Street. Someday perhaps another movie might do this what if.

Does this also mean that the usually left-leaning Stone now thinks differently? In a way. In contrast to the frenetic editing of the first WS, the mood and pacing he establishes here is generally sleek and graceful. These make it easier for the audience to enjoy the beautifully shot images and the trendy music by David Byrne. And everything is just right. Forget the first. This Wall Street just like the rest of the world, has changed. Jake and Winnie are in fact very concerned about going green.

What has not changed is the writing, which is exciting with lots of biting dialogue I am sure would be repeated in financial settings everywhere. And Stone really put together a dream cast. Josh Brolin as the slimy corporate raider is great. Frank Langella as Jake’s tragic mentor is excellent and wouldn’t you wish to find out how Michael Douglas got his 20-year-older Gekko so down pat.

Not to forget, the whole tale is set against the ongoing financial crisis and Stone does come up with a lot of exciting and enlightening moments. Like the horror of watching millions being wiped out in seconds and how much those electronic numbers can affect lives. It can be terrifying? But when you get down to it, it is really the human drama that matters and which makes Wall Street 2, an enjoyable experience.

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