Sometimes, the greatest sin a movie can commit is having greatness in its grasp and letting it slip away before your eyes.
You watch and you’re realizing… they’re soooo close.
But they never get there.
Such is the case with Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, which made its debut on HBO Saturday night.
The original “Wall Street” was one of the seminal movies of the 1980s. I’m not sure that it would ever rise to a “Movie That Everyone Should See” level, but it captured the tone and the feeling of a moment perfectly, and it’s become referential when speaking about the rampant greed and “yuppie” spirit of the 1980s. It struck a chord with my friends and I as well, it was quotable… it was a movie that meant something to me.
So when I heard that Stone was doing one of these “let’s go back 20 years later” movies, honestly, I cringed. Those kind of sequels have about a .125 batting average. The “Color of Money”, maybe the two recent Stallone revisits and… that’s about it. Plus, Stone is spotty at best. When he’s on, he’s GREAT. He has done some PHENOMENAL work in his time. But when he’s off. Uhff. It’s like a drunk has the wheel.
He does well here though. His cityscape segues are pleasant, and his occasional Oliver Stone inter (“THE DIRECTOR IS HERE!!”) jection don’t take you out of the film all that much. And the main reason he comes out of this looking good is… this film DID have a reason to be made. It was certainly NOT a shameless cash grab, or some vanity revisit.
No, this was a movie with something to say both about our time and the main character. “Wall Street” would have been the perfect film to remake during the “Great Recession”, so why not just do a sequel? Who better to put context to the shortsells and mortgage swaps and derivative trading than Gordon fucking Gecko?
And Gecko has other reasons to return as well. One of the reasons I don’t like these “20 years later” movies is… I don’t WANT to see the character 20 years later. Especially if where they wind up recasts my perspective on where they were. Michael Corleone should have stayed on that park bench forever. Alright? But Gecko is brought out to play and its great, it’s one of the reasons I really liked this. His character is broadened, given a life beyond the backroom wheelings and dealings and it works. Not that we don’t get to see him being a freaking Shark, too. He’s great. And seeing him reunite with Charlie Sheen for short but incredibly awesome cameo can only be described as a treat. What a classic character Gecko is, and Stone and Michael Douglas do NOT bring him down by bringing him back out. Quite the opposite in fact.
So what’s the problem? Gecko the Great is back, America needs to see this type of scumbag subject matter more than ever (I think the film does an excellent job of showing how these people’s greed has impact on the lives of the common people), Stone doesn’t overplay his hand… well, what then?
It’s Shia LaBeouf.
Let’s play “Sesame Street” for a second: Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, Carey Mulligan, Shia LaBeouf. Which of these things is not like the other?
*sigh* I’m not even going to rag on his acting, because he pretty much does a serviceable job here. He certainly gives it his all. Like a child learning to swim, you can see those legs kickin’ and splashin’ and he’s just givin’ it everything he’s got so much you’re rooting for him. C’mon Shia! You can do it! That’s it! But he’s ok, acting wise. It’s just that he was GRIEVOUSLY miscast. HORRIBLY miscast. Like a young boy trying on his father’s suit, this role is wayyyy too big for him. Forget that he’s not credible in the part as a trader (though he’s not. He’s not old enough, and he seems neither greedy nor sharp enough) He just doesn’t have the presence, the GRAVITAS for this part.
Which isn’t on him, it’s not his fault. It’s Stone’s or the Studio’s or somebody else’s.
But it’s too damn bad. Because if I had bought into the lead in this flick? If it had been someone who could have carried their share of the load? If they had just changed that one thing and everything else was exactly the same?
I’d have loved this flick.
As it is, B+. Better than I expected.