Reuniting Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the long-awaited follow-up to the 1987 smash hit Wall Street, and rumour has it that Gordon Gekko’s gone good. Much older and much wiser, he’s faced with a dramatically different economic landscape this time around.
Stone was persuaded to take on the project following the collapse of global financial services firm Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the subsequent US$700 billion bailout of financial institutions, which was shouldered by taxpayers. While Wall Street brokers were riding high back in the 1980s, the new movie sees former tycoon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and protégé Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) forced to tackle the biggest financial crisis in history. Suddenly greed doesn’t seem so good…
On the day that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps premiered at Cannes in May, everyone involved seemed to recognise the risks. It’s rare to see a sequel to a film so specifically associated with a cultural moment – the ‘greed is good’ mentality of the ’80s – and rarer still for that sequel to be released a full 23 years after the original, in what amounts to the precise opposite economic climate.
‘I used the example of The China Syndrome [a 1979 film about an unsafe nuclear power plant], which opened 10 days before the Three Mile Island accident [where radioactive gases leaked from a nuclear power generator],’ says Wall Street star Michael Douglas, publically very upbeat, despite revelations he is battling stage-four throat cancer, and who returns in the new movie as a possibly reformed Gordon Gekko. ‘Everybody said, “It must have been fantastic for the movie.” No, because people saw Walter Cronkite and the public-relations man, and people thought they saw the movie.’
Director Oliver Stone, whose demeanour alternates between crazy historian and genial salesman, insists Money Never Sleeps isn’t just a film about the financial crisis. ‘That’s a documentary subject, and it’s been covered well by newspapers and by books,’ he says. ‘So we concentrate on the foreground, these people and what their life is like under these conditions.’
That’s one way to spin the compelling but somewhat bipolar drama, a movie that seems torn between two objectives. One is Stone’s desire to kneecap Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest former investment banks in the US, which initially profited from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in 2008 and fell foul of public favour as a result (the company is fictionalised as ‘Churchill Schwartz’ in the film). The other is the need to fulfil the more conventional requirements of a sequel, in which an iconic movie character is forced to grow and change. LaBeouf plays the hero, an aspiring Wall Street bigwig who’s engaged to Gekko’s daughter (Carey Mulligan). He finds himself in an ethical quandary, with his fiancée, villain Josh Brolin and the newly scrupulous Gekko keenly vying for his loyalty.
The film’s creators talk about the project as though they’ve approached it with completely different mindsets. There’s Stone the muckraker, who tosses out opinions on everything from steelworker salaries to what he calls Mexico’s ‘retarded’ government. Meanwhile, Douglas seems more concerned about whether people will enjoy the movie than whether his character has inspired irresponsibility over the years. ‘If people make financial decisions at that level – billions of dollars – based on watching the movie,’ he says, ‘then they’re really in trouble.’
Then there’s Shia LaBeouf, who immersed himself in the world of finance – trading US$1 million – to prepare for the role. ‘I was going to take the bar exam for traders, only because I felt completely outclassed as an actor,’ he says. ‘There was no way I was going to look at Brolin and Michael Douglas and feel like an equal, because I’m the kid from Transformers. The only way I could feel comfortable was to know more than them. And I did.’ He’s even bullish about his subsequent Transformers 3 shoot in Chicago, where he was arrested at a Walgreens in 2007 during the filming of Eagle Eye. He looks back on the incident fondly. ‘Billy Bob Thornton had no respect for me until I showed up in a cop car.’
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is in UAE cinemas from September 23.
Gordon Gekko’s 1983 vs 2010
The battle of technology
Then: The Motorola 8000X, aka ‘The Brick’ Gekko’s phone’s buttons screamed authority, with options such as ‘lock’, ‘power’ and a rather optimistic red ‘send’ button (which was probably for Morse code). The phone alone cost US$29,909 in 1983. Its colour palette covered grey, tan or white.
Now: Motorola’s Milestone 2 boasts 512Mb of RAM, a five-megapixel HD camera, internet, music and possible time travel.
Then: Filofax, an A4 mini holder of valuable information
Anyone who missed the Filofax will simply not believe their ears at the options available to the modern executive on the go. It had an address book (with alphabetic tabs!), a diary (seven days a page!), a plastic ruler (that doubled as a bookmark!) and, for the person who has everything, a small pen.
Now: Seriously, when was the last time you used paper for anything other than printing?