There’s something of an element of a school reunion about Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The old faces are there, but not quite how you remember them. The surroundings are familiar, but feel a bit more modern. And the person in charge is just a little bit softer than you remember.
Picking up with the release of legendary trader Gordon Gekko from prison, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps soon shuffles forward to 2008, and the eve of the massive financial meltdown. We see this immediately through the eyes of Louis Zabel, played terrifically by Frank Langella, who’s both the mentor of Shia LaBeouf’s character, Jake, and the head of an investment bank soon heading to the wall.
Jake, as it happens, is dating Winnie Gekko (yep, that’s Gordon’s daughter), and soon finds himself both in touch with her father, and drawing swords with Bretton James (Josh Brolin).
It doesn’t take long, either, for director Oliver Stone to assemble his pieces. But nor does it take long to realise that the momentum, the drive and the desire to tell a cutthroat story has been blunted in the past two decades.
For Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is an odd beast. It spends most of its time away from the trading floors that helped define the original movie. It keeps segueing into a story of modern energy sources, which feels far less, well, interesting than the core story of buying the airline Bud Fox’s dad worked for in the original. And it’s keen to hammer home its very blunt message with alarming regularity.
Take the moment, for instance, when LaBeouf admonishes his mother (played in a brief cameo by Susan Sarandon, who’s short-changed on screen time here) for giving up being a nurse to become a real estate agent. Or the hammering home of the importance of family over money. It’s an odd cocktail, and the film takes paths that Stone wisely avoided over 20 years ago.
What the film does have in its corner, however, is a pair of strong performances. Firstly, it’s immense fun to see Michael Douglas strolling around the screen as Gekko once more. And even though the film doesn’t really do much with his character of massive interest, Douglas is clearly having a terrific time revisiting his Oscar-winning role. It’s infectious too, and you’ll be regularly crying out for more of him as the film goes on.
The same too for Carey Mulligan as Winnie. On paper, her role doesn’t look that interesting, and her narrative path quite predictable. But, by golly, Mulligan invests so much in the part that her character can’t help but punch above her weight. Of the newcomers to the film, she’s the most impressive (and that includes Josh Brolin here too, who puts in strong work).
Sadly, the strength of Mulligan is countered by the solid-at-best Shia LaBeouf. He’s front and centre of much of the film, and while he does get a slightly unfair press from time to time with regards to his performances, the role of Jake really needed someone a little stronger. As it stands, he’s the joining link between Mulligan and Douglas’ performances, and they both blast him off the screen. Comfortably.
And then there’s Oliver Stone. He didn’t pen the script this time around, and perhaps that accounts for its lack of real bite. There seems little enthusiasm here to go headfirst into an attack on the financial meltdown, and bizarrely, that leaves The Other Guys as the movie this year with the most to say about it.
Instead, Money Never Sleeps sees Stone playing with special effects, employing obvious visual cues, and occasionally pulling a genuinely terrific shot out of the bag. It’s his best film in some time, but the film somehow feels a lot less vital and far safer than the original.
That said, there’s still enough in the tank to get the film to the finish line, however weak an ending it may have to offer. And while it gets through a little too much on goodwill, and doesn’t actually have too much to say this time around (we’ll be interested to hear what Shia has to say about it in a year’s time, on current form), it’s still professionally packaged entertainment, and unlikely to leave you feeling shortchanged.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps arrives in the UK on 6th October.