This is a cartoon without animation.
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the protagonist of the first Wall
Street (1987) who proclaimed that “Greed is good” returns as a
convicted felon trying to get back in the game, but his main role is
as the father of Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan). Jake Moore (Shia
LaBeouf) is Winnie’s boyfriend, the young guy trying to leapfrog up
the investing ladder, and Bretton James (Josh Brolin) is the bad guy
who was instrumental in putting Gordon in jail and is apparently the
guy to whose tune all the government regulators dance.
This is more a love story between
Winnie and Jake than it is an intelligent examination of what
happened on Wall Street to cause Bear Stearns (Keller Zabel
Investments in the film, run by Frank Langella) to be thrown to the
wolves and the resulting government bailouts. While I don’t expect a
Hollywood insider like director Oliver Stone to understand what
happened or to lay the blame for the financial collapse of 2008 at
the feet of two Democrats, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen.
Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), “mark to market,” and a bunch of cowardly
politicians and political appointees in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama
Administrations, which is exactly where it belongs, I did hope for a
more knowledgeable setup than what is presented here, which is
basically incomprehensible. I defy anyone to explain what the
financial problem was in this movie and why they did what they did.
However, the people making the decisions in Washington in 2008
probably couldn’t describe the problem and why they did what they
did without lying, either.
But this is a movie, and the financial
problem is little more than a McGuffin to introduce interesting
characters like Gekko and James. Unfortunately, the first hour is a
painful effort to set up the financial problem and it was difficult
for me to sit through, although the acting of Douglas, Mulligan, and
Brolin is superb. After the first hour when the love story gets to
be more involving, my interest picked up.
Screenwriter Allan Loeb admitted to
this in an interview on CNBC, “When I started I knew I had to tell a
human story, to expand upon the character of Gekko, but to tell a
real story of human emotions and relationships that had nothing to
do with the world of finance, and then set it against the craziest
year in the history of finance, probably.” That’s what he did, and
it’s the human story that makes the film worth seeing.
Douglas plays these slimy roles, like
Gekko and the title role in The Solitary Man, so well that
one gets the feeling that he’s not acting, which is the mark of a
great actor. He appears as if he’s laughing at you because he just
got the better of you, and that pretty much captures the essence of
Mulligan gives another compelling
performance (after her Oscar®-nominated role in 2009’s An
Education) as the daughter of a guy she hates and the lover of a
guy who is trying to decide whether or not he wants to become
another Gordon or not. Good as Douglas and Brolin are, and they give
sparkling performances, Mulligan is the one I remember.
LaBoeuf, who also gives a fine
performance, confessed that he was terrified to look Gordon Gekko in
the eye or being across from Josh Brolin. He said, “The only job
requirement for these men is confidence and I found that very hard.
So the only way I could show up on set and feel that way was to know
more than the person I was looking at, to feel as though I wasn’t
acting. So Oliver pushed hard and I went at it as I could.”
The problem is that he is miscast.
He's OK as Winnie's love interest, but he's far too pink-cheeked to
be doing what he's doing, to be entrusted with what he's entrusted,
and to be given such respect by people who are supposed to be
This film doesn’t provide any real
information about investing or the financial crisis. But that
doesn’t diminish its entertainment value.