Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

(2010) *** Pg-13
136 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella, Vanessa Ferlito.

/content/films/3926/1.jpgIn 1987's Wall Street, Bud Fox's father implores his son, “Stop going for the easy buck and produce something with your life. Create instead of living off the buying and selling of others.” In the hindsight of twenty-three years, those lines appear to be prophecy: as sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps hastens to point out, 47% of American corporate profits in 2008 came from “moving money around in circles” (last year Der Spiegel put the same number at "about forty percent") rather than domestic production. While this is a key economic philosophy in Oliver Stone's sequel, the director posits an overriding one that Carl Fox could also get behind: nothing is more important than time, preferably to be spent with loved ones. Simplistic? Yes. Sentimental? Sure. But wrong? Not on your life.

Though the carpe diem theme comes as something of a surprise, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps makes its political points, with "moral hazard"—the dark side of second chances—the film’s punny refrain. Reptilian corporate raider Gordon Gekko (the role that won Michael Douglas an Oscar) is back, and the question on everyone's mind is "Can a leopard change his spots?" The film opens with Gekko's 2001 release after eight years in prison, then flashes forward to 2008, the ominous year of the global financial meltdown. Promoting his new book “Is Greed Good? Why Wall Street Has Finally Gone Too Far," Gekko still commands crowds; at Fordham University, he takes the dais to tell fresh-faced hopefuls, "You're fucked" and to diagnose the financial sector's disease: banks gone wild, greedily envious of hedge funds, have begun speculating with Joe Six-Pack’s money.

Gekko isn't riding so high in his personal life: his son died a drug casualty (close to the bone for Douglas, whose son Cameron this year got a five-year prison sentence on drug charges), his marriage imploded, and his daughter Winnie (Hollywood "It Girl" Carey Mulligan) wants nothing to do with him. Lucky for Gekko, liberal internet journalist Winnie is engaged to marry Wall Street trader Jake Moore (Shia La Beouf): a business idealist of sorts, but one who's hardly immune to the allure of money and the thrill of victory (Winnie is happy to marry Jake but doesn’t need the Bulgari ring on which he enthusiastically splurges). Gekko initiates a series of "trades" with Jake: help taking down a mutual enemy in exchange for Jake's help in getting Gordon a chance at reconciliation with Winnie. Unfortunately, wet-blanket Winnie turns out to be more a placeholder than a character, but with all of the economic points flying, screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff perhaps wisely sketch the character drama in the clean lines of a parable.

The mutual enemy: big banker Bretton James (Josh Brolin). He may not twirl a moustache, but he has Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son" hanging in his home office (red flag), and he appears to be the source of rumors that sunk banking firm Keller Zabel Investments, robbing Jake of a job and sending his mentor Lou Zabel (Frank Langella) into a spiral. Jake wants revenge, even if he has to take a job with James (a Ducati race between Jake and Bretton is just a side bet of sorts, a "boys with toys" pissing contest). When not running Goldman Sachs stand-in Churchill Schwartz, James holds court at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The room may not be smoke-filled anymore, but cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Biutiful) shoots it in an evocatively funereal manner: it's where fates get sealed and "small enough to fail" bankers go to die. (It's also where still-fiesty nonagenarian Eli Wallach goes to steal scenes.)

Stone makes time for playful nods to the original film, including a Charlie Sheen cameo, and the inclusion on the soundtrack of songs by David Byrne & Brian Eno. “Home” kicks off the film proper, with the thematically relevant lyrics “Come back anytime/And we’ll mix our lives together/Heaven knows/What keeps mankind alive/Connecting/To places we have known/I’m looking for a home…” Some slick trick graphics (split screens and animated market info) add to the effect, and Stone crams the screen with eye-catching faces, from New York's hoi polloi to Susan Sarandon as Jake's real-estate agent mom. Even as Gordon plays seductive mentor and father figure, Jake chides his mother—a former nurse—to consider a return to “doing something…making a differerence.”

Gekko describes money as his fickle mistress, and in one of his least enlightened moments, he spits, “You die your way; I’ll die mine.” But it's the message of living for something other than money (to quote the singin’ junkies of Rent, "How about love?") that Jake gets from true mentor Zabel, who early on mutters, “Our world is all bullshit…There’s no limits anymore.” For some people, like James, there is no enough; he’s only satisfied with “more.” Money Never Sleeps bookends Wall Street by providing a forensic accounting of the emptiness of the '80s money culture, which only grew exponentially until the bubble burst. The healing starts, Stone suggests, by putting an end to the games of "Responsibility Hot Potato," rethinking priorities, and recommitting to sanity.

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/21/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Oliver Stone has always enjoyed a popularity on home video that rivals most other filmmakers, so it's no surprise that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps comes in a handsome, thoroughly well-appointed Blu-ray + Digital Copy special edition on Blu-ray. The A/V quality is top of the line: the hi-def transfer is sleek and razor-sharp; blacks are deep, hues are rich, and detail and texture never fail to impress, adding up to an image that—while never less than film-like—delivers on the format's promise of dimensionality. No complaints about the lossless DTS- HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound, either: the mix puts us smack in the middle of the action, particularly out on the Street.

Naturally, there's a commentary by director Oliver Stone, one of the best around at the fine art of aurally annotating a film. Stone covers the span from the original film to now, his relationship with the studio in developing the sequel, his approach, casting, and the politics and themes of the film.

"A Conversation with Oliver Stone and the Cast of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"
(15:49, HD) is an entertaining, if brief, roundtable with Oliver Stone chatting up his cast—Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, and Josh Brolin—about their perspectives on the film and their characters.

The documentary "Money, Money, Money: The Rise and Fall of Wall Street" (50:29, HD) comes in five basically self-explanatory parts: "Unfinished Business: Oliver Stone & The Cast on Revisiting Wall Street," "Gordon Gekko is Back," "Lifestyles of Excess," "A Tour of the 'Street,'" and "Trends, Schemes and Economic Collapse: A Guide to Understanding Wall Street." Interviewees include Stone; Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman; Mulligan; Brolin; LaBeouf; Frank Langella; film critic & documentarian Godfrey Cheshire; Douglas; producer Eric Kopeloff; executive producer Celia Costas; talk-show host Wendy Williams; production designer Kristi Zea; The Official Filthy Rich Handbook author Christopher Tennant; screenwriters Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff; costume designer Ellen Mirojnick; Tom Comerford, James E. Mosiej and Andrew Luan of The Wall Street Experience; Soleil Securities CIO Vincent Farrell; Kynikos Associates, LP president & founder James Chanos; and Skybridge Capital managing partner Anthony Scaramucci. By providing historical, geographic, and culural context on Wall Street and Wall Street, this doc excels.

Next up are fifteen “Deleted & Extended Scenes” (29:31, HD) that are well-worth checking out: there are some gems here, including a "rule of three" bit involving Jake's relationship with a maintenance man and an amusing cameo by Donald Trump.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character with..." segments include Michael Douglas (5:35, SD), Shia LeBeouf (4:21, SD), Carey Mulligan (5:04, SD), Josh Brolin (5:52, SD), and Frank Langella (5:20, SD).

"Theatrical Trailers" (3:58, HD) includes the teaser and the full trailer.

Also here are "Sneek Peek" trailers for The A-Team (2:25, HD), Cyrus (2:20, HD), Never Let Me Go (2:26, HD), and "What's Hot on TV on DVD" (1:27, HD), and the BD-Live exclusive featurette "The Return of Bud Fox."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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