Friday, September 24, 2010

A Weak Wall Street Is Saved By Michael Douglas

Hollywood's tendency to remake or retell semi popular movies is now in full swing, with the opening of another sequel - and possibly the last role for Michael Douglas - in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps". It was in 1987 that Michael Douglas earned his first and only Best Actor Oscar for playing Gordon Gekko in Wall Street . Now we get the privilege to see the man work his magic, and it is his talent that makes Money Never Sleeps worth watching.

The film starts in the year 2001 when Gordon (Douglas) is being released from prison. As he walks out the gates into a world that has all but forgotten him, he is at rock bottom. His only possessions are an outdated cell phone and the manuscript he hopes to sell. We then flash forward to 2008 and meet a young couple, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) and Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan). Jake is an ambitious Wall Street investment banker. Winnie is a liberal activist writer for an online website. She also happens to be Gordon's daughter and holds him responsible for her brother Rudy's overdose and her mom's nervous breakdown.

The movie's theme turns to one of revenge when KZI, the investment firm that Jake works for, teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Jake's boss and mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is forced to sell the firm to a rival investment house for less than a third of it's market worth. Jake takes the tragedy personally and seeks retribution against Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who he believes to be responsible for orchestrating the collapse of KZI. Turning to the one man that Jake believes can help him, he starts up a friendship with Gordon. Gordon, who also harbors an old grudge against Bretton, agrees to help if Jake will agree to reintroduce him into Winnie's life. Luckily for Jake, Bretton learns of him and so admires his audacity and drive that he decides to hire him.

This is the beginning of what should have been a well crafted movie but the pace bogs down with several double-crosses and even some artificially heartfelt moments. The expectation that this would be a film about money, power and greed, as opposed to be a film about human relationships and redemption, may disappoint the many fans of the original film. Douglas captures the elder Gekko's darkness, self-righteousness and vulnerability perfectly. He portrays Gekko with a quiet seething rage even though you can see his role in the many double-crosses coming. Shia is almost useless as the other lead actor; his screen presence is almost taxing to sit through. While Carey Mulligan once again shows that she was worthy of her previous Oscar nomination (her performance is at times dead on), at others she tends to overplay the part and her character feels almost heartless. The inevitable conclusion is like a shot out of left field and feels almost false.

I give Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps 2 and a half stars. It is a movie worth watching because Douglas gives everything to make Gekko a nicer person. There's one scene in particular that Douglas has with Mulligan that's so effective it feels as if we are listening to a personal litany of his real life tragedy. There is also an element of blame being laid on the everyday man with the addition of the character of Jake's mother Sylvia (Susan Sarandon). Her dependency on Jake to bail her out of her own self-inflicted debt showcases our own irresponsibility and participation in causing the fiscal crisis shown in the movie.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is rated PG-13 for Brief Strong Language and Thematic Elements.
Running time is 2 hrs. 10 mins.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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