Stone charges back with subprime ‘Money Never Sleeps’

Posted by · 10:58 am · September 21st, 2010

It’s taken me some time to get around to writing about Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” because watching the film was like have your bubble burst (no pun intended).  Where the director’s 1987 original worked from a tight, disciplined script that never took its eye off the ball, this follow-up is a loose, less refined piece of work with a forehead-smackingly bad ending.

Also, due respect to Rodrigo Prieto (one of the best lensers working in the business), I feel there is something lost without Robert Richardson’s hand behind the camera.  The lenser hasn’t worked with Stone since 1997’s “U Turn,” but he gave the original film a palpable energy (as he does any film he shoots, whether it’s for Stone, Scorsese or Tarantino).  The energy on screen in the sequel is cooked up, awkward, false.  There’s an obsession with quirky transitions and visual flourishes (which comes to a head in an over-bearing closing credits sequence) that Stone can’t seem to relinquish.

Then there are the characters.  Perhaps the worst thing you could do is watch “Wall Street” in advance of “Money Never Sleeps,” because whoever Michael Douglas is tackling on the screen this time, it’s not Gordon Gekko, and it shows.  Sure he’s a smart guy who can rattle off stock exchange info and wise cracks left and right, and yeah he’s been in jail for years at the start of the film, but this isn’t the same game.  He doesn’t have the same swagger.  The attitude feels phony.  The performance is fine in and of itself, but it feels like a different character.  I don’t know how to better describe it than that.

LaBeouf (who recently talked his preparations with Arts Beat in Toronto) is actually quite good as a young buck broker engaged to Gekko’s daughter (played capably by Carey Mulligan), and his story really is up to par with Bud Fox’s loss of innocence.  But it somehow never gets there.  Maybe that has something to do with Josh Brolin, playing something of a Gekko of the times, who doesn’t have the bite you really want him to have.  Nothing ever really feels at stake because the green energy company LaBeouf’s crusader is looking to buttress with investment capital always feels at arm’s reach.  Seriously, the bulk of interaction between the two is telephone conversations.  The immediacy is sucked out of the drama, but Stone tries his hardest to manifest it where he can.

And when Bud Fox shows up, by the way (you knew it would happen), it’s like a plate of Baby Swiss, Muenster and Pepper Jack: pure cheese.  There’s so much the filmmakers could have done with that moment but an odd hold on Charlie Sheen (what, to make sure we know who we’re looking at?) and a playful ribbing of his own playboy image is where they decided to take it.  A shame.

Oh, and one more thing.  I love David Byrne as much as the next guy.  But his songs in the film lean HEAVILY against the grain and stick out like a sore thumb throughout.  Again, the awkward energy of the film, it’s a tough thing to quantify.  But it drags it down.

All of that said, the film does manage to nail (perhaps more dramatically than last time) the era it depicts (the film is set in 2008 at the time of the Wall Street tumble).  And the most rewarding moments, the ones that feel most authentic and less contrived, are the early scenes with Frank Langella.

For this viewer, though, none of it ever comes together in a satisfying way.  It’s too bad because this is a key year for filmmaking about these issues.  The New York Times recently covered the number of documentaries taking aim at the Street this year and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” couldn’t have found a better time to hit.  But while it will probably prove entertaining and commercial to many, it lacks the precision of its predecessor and feels more like a sure thing gone south.

It’s interesting.  I took another look at Ben Younger’s 2000 debut “Boiler Room” this week in anticipation of this article and the raft of Wall Street films on the horizon.  There is a scene, you’ll recall, where a number of the characters sit around a television and trade attempts at rattling off memorized Gordon Gekko dialogue from the first film.  It was a nice character touch indicating a generation raised on the Street through pop culture (they also quote “Glengarry Glen Ross”).  But it only goes to show how much of an impact that film had, and how much of an afterthought its sequel seems to be.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” opens nationwide Friday, September 24.

→ 37 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

37 responses so far

  • 1 9-21-2010 at 11:15 am

    McAllister said...

    I guess that is a bit like I expected. I like the cast, though… so I’m still looking forward to it. It’s nice to hear that Langella is a highlight… I also expected that.

  • 2 9-21-2010 at 11:28 am

    James D. said...

    Is it any surprise, given what Stone has released the last ten years or so?

  • 3 9-21-2010 at 11:37 am

    Filmoholic said...

    Yeah, this isn’t exactly surprising. And hell, the original wasn’t that good to begin with.

  • 4 9-21-2010 at 11:47 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “And hell, the original wasn’t that good to begin with.”

    It holds up quite well, in my opinion. Dated aesthetically but the script is crisp and nailed the particulars without being loose and trying to encompass too much.

  • 5 9-21-2010 at 12:08 pm

    the other mike said...

    hey kris, what are your thoughts on Boiler Room? i always felt it was a great ‘little’ film.

  • 6 9-21-2010 at 12:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ve always felt it was tight and well-told. Three-star kind of thing. Affleck is great. Ribisi, for the most part, is on top of it. Diesel is solid and Nicky Katt (who should get work constantly, in my opinion) is always good.

  • 7 9-21-2010 at 12:19 pm

    James D. said...

    Darryl Hannah is the only real bad part about the original. I quite like it.

  • 8 9-21-2010 at 12:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: Yes, Hannah always kills it for me.

  • 9 9-21-2010 at 12:50 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I agree on the Langella bit. He’s the most interesting in it.

    Also I was incredibly annoyed with the literal metaphors of the falling domino bricks and the soap bubbles. They were really too lame.

    Then again, Stone has an agenda and he manages to bring his beliefs against greedy capitalism forward in a convincing manner at times. Too bad the plot and characters are all over the place. Oh and I loved the little cameos btw.

  • 10 9-21-2010 at 2:12 pm

    Red said...

    Someone brought up their hope that Douglas could maybe be nominated for this role again. While I think it’s pretty clear at this point that it won’t happen, it did open another debate.

    It’s my impression that in today’s Oscar world, the Douglas performance from the first film probably wouldn’t be nominated, let alone win like it did in the 80’s. Do you agree Kris? And if so, what do you think that says about todays voting style, or on the 80’s?

  • 11 9-21-2010 at 2:44 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t see any reason to think he wouldn’t be nominated today. But a lot of that goodwill had to do with a sense of Douglas being “due” at the time. And that kind of thinking is evergreen when it comes to AMPAS.

  • 12 9-21-2010 at 2:56 pm

    Fitz said...

    Such as Firth and Duvall this year, or Bridges the last.

  • 13 9-21-2010 at 3:03 pm

    mrmcfall said...

    I thought Kris said his review of “Inception” would be the last one. But I’m definitely not complaining — I love reading them. I’m sorry to hear that it’s not up to par with the original Wall Street, but I’m still interested in seeing this (if only to show the haters that LaBeouf gets work for a good reason).

  • 14 9-21-2010 at 4:05 pm

    Fitz said...

    The soundtrack really is grating. What the hell were they going for?

  • 15 9-21-2010 at 4:06 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Some of you might remember I reviewed this out of Cannes. My take is slightly different: the film is pretty much as terrible as Kris suggests, but on the level of pantomime camp they were going for, it’s a success. What can I tell you — I had fun.

  • 16 9-21-2010 at 4:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    As for Douglas’s win in 1987, don’t forget that the fact that he headlined “Fatal Attraction” the same year was a significant factor. Big year for him.

  • 17 9-21-2010 at 4:22 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    It’s basically Wall Street by way of Any Given Sunday. I enjoyed it, but mostly in the way Guy is saying.

    I don’t get why Stanley Weiser couldn’t have written it. Probably because he (wisely) didn’t want to.

  • 18 9-21-2010 at 7:01 pm

    tintin(uruguay) said...

    TANGLED new(and better) trailer.

  • 19 9-21-2010 at 8:44 pm

    Danny King said...

    I love the original and am really looking forward to this. The previews give off a sense of “camp” that Guy mentioned, which I find quite appealing, if it follows through.

    And I’ve been having some Mulligan fever as of late. She’s pitch perfect in “The Greatest” if that’s a film you skipped over this year.

  • 20 9-21-2010 at 8:49 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    There’s no camp in this, IMO. Nothing that’s willful, anyway.

  • 21 9-21-2010 at 9:12 pm

    Danny King said...


    By the way, this is pretty off topic, but have you heard anything about “The Company Men?” The trailer was admittedly corny, but I find it interesting how it is really floating beneath the surface despite its great cast. (It is related to the economy, so that is my defense for staying somewhat on topic.)

  • 22 9-22-2010 at 12:37 am

    theviewer said...

    Kris aren’t there any campaign push for carey mulligan in the best supporting actress category for Money Never Sleeps? I think she has a good chance in the that race

  • 23 9-22-2010 at 1:25 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    mrmcfall: As far as formally structured reviews, it was. Now I just kind of wander with my thoughts when it comes to hammering out my take.

  • 24 9-22-2010 at 1:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The Viewer: We all love Carey Mulligan, but come on. Not a chance.

  • 25 9-22-2010 at 1:28 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “the level of pantomime camp they were going for”

    I don’t think I’m buying it. Truly, to what end?

  • 26 9-22-2010 at 1:44 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    It could just be that the film is dumber than I’m willing to believe. But by the time Josh Brolin pitched up in a maroon suit against a backdrop of Goya’s “Satan Devouring His Son” (if memory serves — it’s been four months, so I may have the details wrong), I couldn’t believe Stone was taking it any more seriously than I was.

  • 27 9-22-2010 at 2:35 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Guy, the domino bricks were even worse, IMO.

  • 28 9-22-2010 at 4:30 am

    AdamL said...

    “the film is pretty much as terrible as Kris suggests, but on the level of pantomime camp they were going for, it’s a success. What can I tell you — I had fun.”


    That doesn’t make sense. If you had fun it CANNOT be a terrible film. Unless, of course, the objective of the film was to make you not have fun.

  • 29 9-22-2010 at 4:55 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    With respect, you’re being a bit literal-minded, Adam. I thought the film haphazardly directed and crafted, laboriously written, unevenly acted — on balance, pretty bloody awful — yet was entertained by its excesses and eccentricities. The concept of good bad cinema is not a new one.

    My review might make my stance clearer.

  • 30 9-22-2010 at 8:37 am

    evelyn garver said...

    Sadly, some artists just do not remain relevant with the passage of time. This is what has happened to Stone. The subject matter is not the issue. Fincher, be it ZODIAC or THE SOCIAL network, has a share in the zeitgeist. C. Nolan, PT Anderson also manage to seem fresh, no matter the film. At 57, I’m clearly of Stone’s generation and have no interest in his films. He is such a punching bag for the Right Wing, none of whom realize he has so little influence on contemporary film making.

  • 31 9-22-2010 at 9:27 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think it has a few winks here and there but I don’t think it’s on the level you suggest. I think it’s trying to capture a certain energy that just doesn’t work. I don’t see any logical sense of camp in, for instance, the transitions or head bubble during the phone conversation, etc.

  • 32 9-25-2010 at 10:34 am

    Rashad said...

    I really liked the movie, and of course Gordon feels different – because he is different. I won’t spoil the way the character shifts during the film, but the emotional scenes, where he’s trying to connect with his daughter. aren’t fake. He really does miss her, he really does want to connect again. His pride and ego still consumes him, even though he’s nothing but a relic to people. The dinner scene is perfect to show how much Gordon wants to keep the facade of being a big shot, but shows just how sad and tragic he really is.

    The only thing that bothers me was the editing, which was awkward most times and reminded of these post-2000 Tony Scott films. I really liked Shia, and do think he gave one of the best performances of the year.

  • 33 9-25-2010 at 11:06 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s a bit facile, I think, Rashad. Obviously he’s in a different headspace but I’m talking about something else. It’s like Douglas lost his understanding of the character. Or couldn’t reengage.

  • 34 9-25-2010 at 2:08 pm

    Rashad said...

    I felt it was the same man but changed, you didn’t think so.

    I don’t know what else can be said. Guess it’s just a “feeling.”

  • 35 9-25-2010 at 5:21 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I agree with Rashad. I feel like it’s the same exact Gekko, just older, wiser (?), more battered, and in a different era. I found him the same.

    I also liked the movie quite a bit. And aside from some stretches where I had no clue what was going on (stock market gibberish/lingo), and a few odd editing choices, I enjoyed what I watched; and so did the 25 or so senior citizens I was sitting with, haha.

  • 36 12-30-2010 at 6:35 am

    Richard Choffe said...

    Poem with title by Kirk Douglas
    “Those who have more should give to those who have less:”
    Wealth is neither good or bad,
    a give or take of greed or need,
    Be generous, make happy the sad,
    Recipricate His Bountifull seed,
    Grow you enough for Him to Bless,
    “Those who have more should
    give to those who have less”.