REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps -- But You Just Might

Movieline Score: 5

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, his daughter, Winnie (Mulligan), shares a loft with her boyfriend, the ambitious but kinda nice Jake (LaBeouf). She runs a web site devoted to green stuff; he's more interested in making the other kind of green stuff. ("The only green is money, honey!" he tells her as they roll around in bed on a sunny morning.) But Jake is also interested in alternative energy sources; he's a bright kid headed in the right direction, partly thanks to the guidance of his mentor, Louis Zabel (Langella), the founder of the investment firm he works for.

In other words, the disgraced but slick Gekko, though he's revered by many of Jake's peers, is Jake's anti-role-model. But when Jake meets Gekko and realizes he's not so bad, he tries to effect a reconciliation between Winnie and her dad. It also turns out that a creepy modern-day Gekko, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), has engineered the demise of both Zabel's firm and poor Zabel himself. Jake has lost one father figure; might he have found another?

How much do you really care? Stone is banking that you will care, and bits of Money Never Sleeps are entertaining in that characteristic overcooked Oliver Stone way. (I laughed when Jake's mom, a former nurse and current real-estate agent played by Susan Sarandon, swans in wearing a metallic jacket and carrying a god-awful oversized handbag, though I wish Sarandon would get better roles than this one.) But Stone's original movie at least offered its share of guilt-inducing pleasures: It allowed us to revel in the excesses of Wall Street highfliers even as we decried the means by which they procured all that shiny stuff. Money Never Sleeps reads more like a scolding brief on the cause of our current economic crisis.

That cause can be summed up with one word -- greed -- although Stone uses lots and lots of words to make his numbingly obvious points. When we see Bretton James and his dark-suited cronies huddled around a table, engineering Zabel's demise, they may as well be holding pitchforks and wearing pointy devil beards. Stone's assessment of these creeps may be right on the money, but he's not telling us anything we don't already know. And he's so intent on preaching at us that he deflates any possible value his movie might have had, even just the plain old entertainment kind.

Shot by Rodrigo Prieto, Money Never Sleeps at least has a nice, glossy glow: In an early scene, as Jake and Winnie zip through the streets of lower Manhattan on a motorbike, Prieto shows us rows and rows of undistinguished yet stately brick apartment buildings fronted by a latticework of fire escapes -- part of the beauty of the city is its unrepentant repetitiveness.

The actors, on the other hand, only fade into the landscape. Mulligan, as the movie's commonsense pixie, holds down her turf adequately. But LaBeouf doesn't seem capable of holding down anything: As leading men go, he's a listless anchor -- there's nothing exactly wrong with his performance, but barely two days after seeing the movie, I can recall almost nothing about it other than a recurring sad-sack puppy-dog expression he seems particularly fond of. Douglas brings the right amount of dry oiliness to the aging Gekko -- his tight little smile suits his face better now than it did 23 years ago.

But no actor could possibly outshine the real stars of the show, the never-ending parade of potential catch phrases in the making. Stone struck paydirt with "Greed is good." So how about, "Bubbles are evolutionary. When they burst, they give birth do a new day"? If that doesn't work for you, maybe try, "Money's the bitch that never sleeps. And she's jealous." Still looking for the mother of all kickers? Say hello to my little friend, "The mother of all evil is speculation."

The only actor here whose performance I could watch again and again is that of Eli Wallach, as a Wall Street old-timer who knows just how bad things have gotten and makes no bones about it. With his goaty smile, and a set of dangling, pointed earlobes that appear to be making a beeline for his kneecaps, he assays the rampant corruption around him with the half-witted wisdom of a dotty old sage -- he's Preston Sturges' Wienie King reincarnate. "You pigged out, kid! You were making a fortune here," he sez to one of the young 'uns, pointing out neither how nor why everything went wrong, only that it absolutely did. He predicts the end of the world as we know it while making a trilling, whirly-bird noise through his teeth. Everything Wallach does makes perfect sense, in a WTF kind of way. If only the movie around him could be that crazy and that sane at the same time. Money! It's the bitch that never sleeps. Wallach is the only one here who'd have the balls to kick her out of bed.

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  • The Winchester says:

    Sounds like Wallach is the Lundgren of this picture. Now I have to rent it.

  • Ndege says:

    Isn't this the same reviewer who reviewed Inception?

  • James says:

    I love that you referenced the Wienie King from "The Palm Beach Story" -- wonderful! And I completely agree with your assessment of the film, too. The first one had a kind of behind-the-scenes, down-in-the-trenches immediacy to it. But this one reduces Gekko to a supporting player and gives us heaping helpings of LaBeouf. That's like going to a steakhouse where they bring you a little cube of beef every 20 minutes while trying to drown you in breadsticks.

  • Trace says:

    Yeah. Kinda like how most critics who reviewed Ineption reviewed this movie. Isn't that, like, so weird?!!

  • Abram Cofone says:

    A magnum opus is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it's there complete in the mind, if only at the back.