Oliver Stone was making a statement on the glibly money-hungry times when his "Wall Street" came out in 1987 and, with it, the iconic figure of Gordon Gekko declaring that greed, for lack of a better word, was good.
Twenty-three years later, greed is still getting a lot of people into a lot of trouble. The entire country, in fact. And so Stone's latest, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," is the rare sequel that feels not only relevant but necessary.
Of course, his hindsight is 20/20. Everyone's is. But here, Stone takes the economic collapse of 2008 and places Gekko - played masterfully by Michael Douglas, returning to the role that earned him an Academy Award - in the middle of it. Having been released from federal prison after serving time for securities fraud, money laundering and racketeering, Gekko is now free to swim among even more dangerous sharks than he ever dreamed of being himself. The question becomes: How will he react? Will he use his shrewdness to try and beat them at their game, or will he actually have found a moral center during his time behind bars?
That story line alone could have provided the basis for one meaty, worthwhile movie. "Money Never Sleeps" also crams in a father-daughter story, a few different mentor-protege stories and a romance. It's big and loud and brash in an almost operatic way - and knowingly, joyfully so. For a movie about a depressing topic that we're all-too familiar with, "Money Never Sleeps" is surprisingly entertaining.
The dialogue from Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff is biting and propulsive, and the hugely esteemed ensemble cast is a kick. Besides Douglas, who's better than ever even as a toned-down snake, Shia LaBeouf is solid as an ambitious young trader - he feels like a grown-up, finally - and the two stars have a couple of electric exchanges.
But there are plenty of showy supporting roles, as well. A beefed-up, suspendered Frank Langella provides both gravitas and humor as founder of the powerful Keller Zabel Investments; he also serves as a father figure to LaBeouf's Jacob Moore. Susan Sarandon chews up the scenery as Jacob's tacky, talkative mother, a former nurse who's been enjoying the good life as a high-end Long Island real estate agent. And Josh Brolin is a formidable villain as Bretton James, a billionaire partner at a rival investment bank who ruins Keller Zabel with rumors of debt, then arranges a brutal takeover. Just listening to him describe why he has a particular Goya painting in his office is intimidating.
Eventually, "Money Never Sleeps" goes soft and loses its way. The romantic subplot between Jacob and Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie, of all people, feels needless, even though it does allow for the radiant presence of Carey Mulligan. It also raises some questions: As Gekko himself so astutely wonders, if Winnie hates her father so much, why would she get involved with a man who does the exact same thing, which she found so reprehensible? Jacob's dream of funding an alternative-energy company is intended to redeem him somewhat, but really, he gets that same gleam in his eyes when it comes to the prospect of getting rich.
And what happens in the last couple of scenes especially stands as a stark and almost laughable contrast to where these characters began and what they're supposedly made of. Then again, as the song goes, money changes everything.