Brace yourself, Gordon is in town

 
Marc Sidwell
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Film
MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
Cert: 12A

GORDON Gekko comes to London. If you enjoyed Oliver Stone’s original film, do you really need any other inducement to see Wall Street’s sequel, Money Never Sleeps? For a few brief scenes the financial world’s debonair Mephistopheles can be seen, trademark devil-may-care smirk and all, getting shaved in Trumper’s, measured for a suit in Savile Row and doing what he does best, ruthlessly putting money where it can grow fastest, from an glass-walled office with a magnificent City view.

Be warned that after a twenty-three year gap, this film is far more than a conventional sequel and a little less than its remarkable predecessor. Wall Street was the film of a director young enough and angry enough at the world to try and change it, a morality tale aimed at the bull market of the 1980s; the new film is the work of an older man looking for life lessons in the rubble of the 2008 crash, making Wall Street II an altogether more autumnal affair. The battle of the banks is interwoven with the story of Gekko’s attempts to rebuild a relationship with his estranged daughter, and to atone for the death by overdose of his only son. At times the atmosphere is more like a late Shakespearean comedy than a conventional Hollywood coming-of-age drama.

That could sound a little downbeat, yet remember the promise of those scenes in London. This is not just a case of exit Gekko, pursued by a bear. One of the charms, if also a frustration, of Money Never Sleeps, is that it offers so many films under one banner. That gives it overall a restless, exhilarating energy, if also making it less tight in storyline than the original.

In the new film, as well as the story of what Gordon gets up to after his prison sentence – he writes a bestseller predicting the 2008 meltdown – we also have a reworking of the old Bud Fox-Gekko dynamic. Shia LaBeouf is a young trader, Jake Moore, in search of a mentor and engaged to Gekko’s daughter. He gets more that he bargained for not only from his encounters with Gekko but in his new boss, Bretton James, played by Josh Brolin as a brutal negotiatior with a bottomless thirst for power. As Moore strives to break free and make sense of his own priorities, the film gains yet another strand as it attempts a potted history of the 2008 crisis. Surely never before has a film managed to combine a bittersweet quest for reconciliation across the generations with an exposition of the nature of toxic debt and moral hazard.

It is to the great credit of Stone that the film, wobbling under the weight of so many elements, still more or less succeeds, combining nostalgic cameos – Bud Fox has apparently sold his soul for a permatan and a blonde on either arm – with a fresh take on the world of finance after twenty years. Stone’s personal politics may lean towards Hugo Chavez, but he grew up with Wall Street – his father was a broker – and he remains a highly gifted director. The result, as with the first film, escapes into a much more human story than Stone’s didactic side might have wished.


Stone presents his bankers like rival mafia families, and their meetings at the Fed as the shameless fleecing of the public coffers by men serving their own cynical ends, but he also takes aim at Main Street for its embrace of an unsustainable property bubble. And although a critique of government’s role in the crisis is absent from his narrative, Stone keeps his enthusiasm for big government to himself. Indeed, the only words on government are left to Gekko, who more than once expresses his “healthy distrust for big government”. The deeper lesson seems to be one of human tragedy in the face of the agendas of the powerful.

All that said, Money Never Sleeps falls short of the first film. Wall Street did not just put a fresh gloss on the ancient problem of power: it announced a new world, one that was brash, rich, egalitarian, driven by technological revolution and, yes, dangerous and open to abuse. Cell phones are smaller in the sequel, but the shock of the new is absent. By contrast, Wall Street, planned as a show trial of the new breed of trader, saw the type Stone wanted to condemn becoming the story, rather than his scripted verdict.

Gekko lives on, a demonic figure who will not let bonds of blood or loyalty stand in the way of his skill. He is a devil, but also a liberator, a City College boy who refuses to let vested interests have all the fun. He attracts and appals, because we still live in his disrupted world, with even the powerful too often clinging to old certainties that don’t work any more.

THEN AND NOW | THE QUOTABLE GORDON GEKKO

WALL STREET

We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy? It's the free market.

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

WALL STREET II

Someone reminded me I once said "Greed is good". Now it seems it's legal. Because everyone is drinking the same Kool Aid.

Money is a bitch that never sleeps!

The mother of all evil is speculation.

The one thing I learned in jail is that money is not the prime asset in life. Time is.

It's not about the money - It's about the game.

Stop telling lies about me and I'll stop telling the truth about you.