The sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is not a complete dud by a long shot, and it has its moments, but overall it falls well short of Wall Street.
Gordon Gecko has been released from prison, and is determined to make his way back to the top, by hook or by crook. Instead of playing off Charlie Sheen, this time his main interactions in the film are with his grown daughter (a leftist or populist blogger, more or less estranged from Gecko) and especially her fiancé Shia LeBeouf. The setting has shifted from the “greed is good” financial scandals of the 1980s to the “too big to fail” financial scandals of the 2000s.
The movie alternates between two views of Gecko. At times it appears he is unchanged from Wall Street, that he is utterly ruthless, and that any time he manifests what appears to be a more human side it is a ruse. At other times it appears he’s mellowed, that the flashes of humanity he shows are genuine, and that he is redeemable. The former parts tend to be more believable.
I’m always struck when I watch a movie like this—or I suppose when I encounter people like this in real life—how thieves and degenerates like Wall Street folk can ever trust each other or ever have some kind of human relationship. At least murderers and convicts (sometimes) have a sort of moral code they try to live up to and rely on with each other, but when people sink as low as the 1%ers, how can they stand each other?
Maybe it’s a small point, but I enjoyed this movie visually. The shots of New York look like they come from someone who loves and is in awe of the city, like the Woody Allen of Manhattan.
Charlie Sheen reappears in the movie in a cameo, playing the same character he played in the original Wall Street. The scene is brief, but it’s a hoot. There’s an immediate chemistry, a wariness, a tension, an electricity between him and Gecko that unfortunately makes it all the more obvious that anything like that is lacking between Gecko and LeBeouf.
The movie doesn’t really try to explain the more obscure, complex elements of the financial meltdown; at most it vaguely references them. It strives to be simpler, more understandable, even when that makes the characters more caricaturish and the specific events less plausible. But it does a decent job overall of conveying its simpler themes, such as that the era was marked by the richest and most powerful folks engaging in gambling that would normally be utterly reckless, but that they’d rendered risk free by being too big to fail and therefore guaranteed of a bailout.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps held my interest reasonably well for the first half or so. It wasn’t great, but it was pretty good. But I felt my interest gradually fading after that. Some of the movie is implausible (e.g., some of the ultra-rich bad guys actually getting caught and punished), and some of it is dull (e.g., the main romance), but mostly I realized I just didn’t care enough about these people and this story.
I didn’t hate the ending by the way. There’s some thoughtfulness to it; it carries a worthwhile message.
Documentaries about a topic such as the financial meltdown can be dry and a bit of a chore to sit through; this attempt to humanize it by fictionalizing it and connecting it to personal drama is hokey to a degree and mostly doesn’t work. The former flaws are more tolerable—that kind of movie is still important. This movie is OK, but I’ll say a near miss.