“Growing old’s not for sissies, kid”
Stupid subtitle aside, dare I say Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps surpasses its predecessor pretty much across the board cinematically? Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff have woven together an intricate plot of dueling con jobs amidst a young romance between idealists in a capitalist world where greed is a top commodity. Oliver Stone doesn’t need a tour de force performance from Michael Douglas like he did to shield the somewhat simplistic storyline at the backbone of Wall Street—although he reprises the role very effectively—because the timely subject matter still stings many people hurt by the most recent American recession and because the quests for retribution have a little more meat on them than money grudges of stolen stock ownerships. Douglas’s villain is replaced by a charmingly conniving Josh Brolin as Bretton James and Charlie Sheen, (with his own moment to shine in a fun cameo), is freshened up by Shia LaBeouf’s Jake Moore. Not so much willing to get dirty as far as the law is concerned, LaBeouf doesn’t mind a bit of deception for payback, opening him up for a fall of his own.
Two decades after the film that foreshadowed the stock market crash of 1987, Stone opens his sequel with Gordon Gekko’s release into the world. Having spent eight years behind bars and five more before that in the courtroom, his discharge is met with absolute solitude, his only family left—a daughter, Winnie, played by Carey Mulligan—abandoning him after the suicide of her brother due to an absentee father and descent into drug abuse. Wind the clock seven more years and we find Winnie living comfortably with her Wall Street beau Jake, working for a non-profit website news source while he bankrolls his trading on endeavors in green energy, her morning smile wiped away by the mention of her father’s new book on the television. It’s a subtle nod to a return to her consciousness of the virus that is Gordon Gekko, planting his seed of suave intellect in Jake, a boy looking to find someone to look up to and feel good about the future with now that father figure, mentor, and boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) ended his life when the firm he created was destroyed by another stroke of monetary vengeance.
But that is the game, as Douglas says. It isn’t about the money, it’s about the maneuvering of people and power, of showing your might against the weakness of inferiors; a back and forth of lying, cheating, and stealing with a smirk to goad others into attempts towards wiping it off. And for a billionaire like Bretton James, one has to imagine he’s been well versed to the rules of engagement for some time. The question becomes whether he ever played against an adversary as morally corrupt and vindictive as Gekko, because the former king is chomping at the bit for an opportunity for resurrection. His buy-in, however, consists of human chips carefully placed in positions to tumble and expedite his rise—an estranged daughter, her love for an ambitious wunderkind in Jake, and his bloodlust for the man responsible for his idol’s unceremoniously pillaged financial and physical carcass. Playing for the hope at rekindling a relationship with Winnie, Gordon begins his carefully constructed plan for redemption … but he isn’t out to save his soul, the wallet begs for help much louder.
Money Never Sleeps is definitely flashier than its prior incarnation, utilizing some computer graphic montages of electronic numbers and computer screens replacing the bulky gray shells and black plastic phones, and yet somehow still able to retain the unique voice of David Byrne for accompaniment. I liked the line graphs superimposed on city skylines, I enjoyed the nods of homage like a backseat cab ride serving as an antithesis to Sheen and Douglas’s limo ride in the first, and even the Ducati commercial entertained with its power struggle allusions of young and old, foreshadowing the karmic comeuppance for Bretton, a man who has been double-dipping in his firm’s funds and willing to slander an old man’s integrity for a chance at salvation. No character involved has any redeemable characteristics as even Jake’s mother, portrayed by Susan Sarandon, is in the game for quick cash regardless of the consequences on either her or her son. The filmmakers traverse a difficult road of showing the worst in people and letting the audience decide who is the lesser evil. Even some of the cruelest alive started with plans to save the world only to find the allure of fame and fortune hard to ignore.
With all the crisscrossing of relationships going on, either backstabbing or loving, it would be tough to end everything in the kind of ambivalent purgatory of regret which finished the first entry to Gekko’s saga. And while the ending here does ring with a bit of disingenuity in a somewhat too neatly wrapped in a bow conclusion considering the baggage of decades standing between characters, I was able to buy it in so far as the evolution of the story. LaBeouf and Brolin work some magic to counter the scene chewing of Douglas, putting the suit and slicked-back hair of Gekko back on like a glove. This trio brings the necessary authenticity to the stock jargon and political message spouted within the script—what Stone flick could exist without an agenda—and once more allow for challenging subject matter to be understandable as far as the plot is concerned. Mulligan, despite what most have been saying, doesn’t just cry the whole movie and in fact adds the needed humanity to help thaw the cold-blooded thugs in suits inhabiting this world. Even Eli Wallach’s cutesy bird motions and sounds become a detail to be remembered. They all helped invest me in the twists and turns onscreen, showing Stone’s relevance hasn’t yet disappeared.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Michael Douglas stars as Gordon Gekko and Shia LaBeouf stars as Jacob Moore in 20th Century Fox’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
 Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) with Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan) stars in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Copyright © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
 Josh Brolin stars as Bretton James in 20th Century Fox’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (2010)