Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps follows Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) as he tries to reclaim his life after spending eight years in prison for fraud and insider trading. Meanwhile, twenty-something, proprietary trader Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is profiting well from his job at Keller Zabel Investments and maintains a serious and intimate relationship with Winnie (Carey Mulligan), Gekko’s estranged daughter. When the owner of the corporation, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), kills himself over his company’s severe woes, Moore sets out to find the culprit(s) behind his death and try to mend Gekko and Winnie’s long-broken bond.
Veteran actor Michael Douglas has spent a number of years on the fringes of noteworthy cinema. His talent is endless and his screen presence, like his equally talented father, is palpable in every one of his projects. It seems almost appropriate and bittersweet that as he nears seventy and faces a tough illness, he would reprise the role he is best known for and bring closure to a character that as despicable as he is, remains an absorbing and enigmatic figure.
Even at twenty-four, Shia LaBeouf has proven he’s a magnetic performer and can carry a film. Money Never Sleeps relies largely on LeBeouf’s acting chops and charisma to propel it forward. Moore’s and Gekko’s personal plights parallel one another, but it is Jake Moore’s background and complex relationships with his mother and Winnie that informs the story with profundity and significance. This infuses the film with a coming-of-age quality and an accessible backbone. LaBeouf’s scenes with Douglas are tension-filled and are a delight, like a very experienced professor leading his pupil into the next stage of his career.
Carey Mulligan as Gekko’s daughter is an important role, but often feels half-baked, almost as though her character exists solely for Gekko and Jacob to have someone to play off of and be affected by. Her character comes and goes from the proceedings without ever feeling like a complete and tangible person. But, with the scenes Mulligan does have, she handles nicely.
As an aside, the script requires a lot of tears, meaning our characters are compelled to cry frequently throughout. I have never seen this much crying in an Oliver Stone or any film in recent memory, in fact. The sobbing is handled by all, with great meticulousness and care. It is both convincing and touching. I was very much impressed and the abundance of tears serves the story and characters well.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps eventually places itself in a difficult corner. It tries to juggle several stories and with the exception of Jacob and Winnie’s complicated relationship, it never is able to develop very thoroughly the others and in the process turns the smarmy and greedy Gordon Gekko into a complicated, emotionally broken father figure with a buried heart of gold. Still, the film is highly entertaining despite its length and speaks heavily to the current financial crisis we’ve found ourselves in. Stone is not timid about demonstrating the severe viciousness that the business and the financial world has reached nor does he shy away from the incompetence and extreme mismanagement it took to get there.
The film ends on a very optimistic and arguably, unrealistic note, while most of the cynicism and dramatic gravity that preceded it, is tossed aside. The positive outcome the movie projects may not be the most probable, but it is one to aspire to and as Stone seems to suggest: If Gordon Gekko can change, so, perhaps, can the world.