By Jason A. Hill
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, USA, 2010
Directed by Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is really a film that came out about a year too late. As America bickers over the methods and strategies of economic recovery, we are just now coming into an understanding of the full scope of what took place during the economic meltdown in 2008. While this film exists on its own factious story and morals, the situational setting of its subject matter is impossible to ignore. And while the film is riddled with its problems as a narrative film, such as a flawed plot and flawed acting, it does point out important questions as to what happened, why it happened, and what’s yet to be done with those who are responsible for, and who benefited from, its aftermath.
When living in a country where a large percentage of the population still believes Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on September 11th, 2001, or that President Obama is a Muslim, it’s hard to believe that what happened with the financial meltdown will ever be truly understood. A ton of books have been written on this topic by the very same economists and academics who failed to see it or warn the public beforehand, and now still claim to be experts on the subject. The press is just as incompetent, doing little more than displaying a wrestling match between these “experts” as they fight over details in the margins. What’s left for the rest of us is to reflect on what happened as we continue struggling to recover from its effects.
In the film we meet Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), an eager and driven Wall Street broker who wants to save the world with his alternative energy company investment. By his side is Gordon Gekko’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). They are young, idealistic, wealthy, and about to hit a wall of economic ruin. Michael Douglas returns from the original Wall Street (1987) as Gekko and gives a great performance, disseminating poetic creeds of the “game” as he calls it, having just been released from prison. Gordon re-enters public life with a book predicting the impending doom of the financial system and is sought out by Jake, who works for an investment bank that has invested heavily in sub-prime toxic assets. When rumors start to fly that his bank is hopelessly over-leveraged, its stock tanks and the bank’s president and Jake’s mentor, Lewis Zabel (Frank Langella), has to ask the government for a bailout. Zabel is forced by his main rival, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), to sell the bank’s holdings to competitors for fractions of their former worth. Shortly after the deal, Zabel takes his own life.
Enraged, Jake makes a deal with Gordon, in which he will help Gordon patch things up with Winnie; in return, Gordon helps Jake take revenge on James, who helped put Gordon in jail for over eight years. When Jake’s bank is absorbed into Churchill Schwartz, a bank run by James, we soon learn that Schwartz is heavily trading credit default swaps. After the economic collapse becomes apparent, Stone takes us into meetings between the Federal Reserve Bank and the Government to negotiate for the “too big to fail” bailout. Gordon helps Jake get the goods on James’ bank, for which he must take the fall. But in keeping with Gekko tradition, Gordon steals money promised to his daughter, and to Jake’s fusion research project, and rebuilds his trading business. Betrayed, Jake confronts Winnie with the truth and their relationship falls apart. In the end, Gordon returns to repair his relationship with his daughter because he wants a relationship with his grandson. He gives the $100 million he stole to Jake’s clean energy investment, and Jake and Winnie embrace.
As I said before, the execution of the film has its flaws, but it was entertaining enough to deliver a very important message about the financial meltdown. Several terms I’ve heard between friends make it into the film, such as, “the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.” The film describes how many in the banking industry made millions, perhaps billions, shorting the market on the way down, only to receive a bailout to absorb weaker competitors with the money. Many of the institutions, characters, and especially outcomes are fictitious, but many of these things really happened and we are still facing the consequences of the actions taken by our banking system and our government. The film points out that this was truly the “crime of the century,” and yet not a single person has been charged. We still treat it as an unsolved mystery. I was so disappointed with Michael Moore’s clumsy and broad base attack on economics, Capitalism: A Love Story, that I was hoping for a film to give more attention to the subject of the economic meltdown. While Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps doesn’t fulfill that need for me, the things the films does bring to light are important enough to be seen, even if it is surrounded by a lackluster drama.
Jason A. Hill is the Founder, Owner and Editor In Chief of Movies I Didn’t Get.com. He is a film critic and writer of articles and film reviews covering a variety of genres and film news that have been syndicated to many sites in the film blogosphere. He specializes in independent film in the US and Asia.
For more information please contact Jason at JasonAHill@MoviesIDidn’tGet.com.