Sep 25, 2010

REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps has one of the ungainliest plots to come along since Ridley Scott's Hannibal. Basically it's two plots, but Stone seems incapable of combining, or layering, them, one on the other. Instead he tells both, one after the other. Plot A, then Plot B. Boom. Boom. Plot A consists of Shia La Beouf inserting himself into Josh Brolin's bank, as his protege, in order to revenge himself for the death of his mentor, Frank Langhella. This storyline — pretending to be a protege to someone in order to enact revenge — never works for me. It didn't work in Gangs of New York and it doesn't work here. It's such a dumb way of getting your revenge on someone: sucking up to them. The audience can't figure out what's going on, and when their hero finally plucks up courage and turns on their mentor, they get this disgusted look on their face: you weasel. And they're right. It's weaselly. So Plot A runs out of steam at just past the hour mark, and Stone embarks on plot B (spoiler alert) about everyone trying to get their hands on the trust fund of Gordon Gekko's daughter. It's almost like he's started the movie again — a mid-air reboot. I actually liked the look and feel of Plot B better than I liked Plot A — Mulligan might have stood a chance of registering in this one — but it gets exactly half-an-hour to complete it's business, soup to nuts. May I be so bold as to introduce Stone to an exciting, new idea sweeping Hollywood? Its called a subplot. It runs alongside your main plot. At the same time. It's highly effective, I hear. As it is Gekko sits on the sidelines for the first hour, popping up at odd intervals to deliver mini-lecturettes on the financial system. He gives an actual lecture at one point, and everyone in his audience wears the dutifully fixed grins of people entranced, but even Stone gets bored, using one of those fade-in-and-out montages Jon Stewart uses to suggest the passage of vast tracts of time during an epic filibuster. On the plus side, he and Mulligan get one good scene together, a weepie on some steps, and Josh Brolin is terrific, his eyes so sunken you can barely make out the whites, as if peering from his own personal charcoal pit — this is his Bush. Stone's direction is surprisingly sprightly, with lots of speeded-up footage of New York set to some light-funk numbers from David Byrne and Brian Eno; there's some fun with split-screens, streaming digits, and plenty of self-referential cameos — Stone, Charlie Sheen, Graydon Carter. It may sound like the usual Oliver-Stone-patented aerial bombardment and yet there's a crespuscular twinkle to the movie that I found myself enjoying, despite myself. It dances rather than pounces; it's mordant rather than savage. It was smart of Stone I think, to tack in the opposite direction from the first film, which thundered through it's balsa-wood plot as if he had Wagner's ring cycle on its hands. He didn't. It's one of the most disappointing "classic" movies out there: basically one great speech which hit such a nerve that people forgot how flimsy the rest of it was. Now that Stone really does have something genuinely grave in his sights — the financial meltdown of 2008 — he lightens up. His movie has the giddy lightness reported by amputees, or the punch-drunkeness of boxers, seconds before they hit the mat. Stone's found the perfect tone for his empire-at-dusk jig. How I wish it were better. C+


  1. My review of this is up at So far you're the only reviewer I've read who is essentially with me--the darn thing is so ADD, a rogue's gallery with way too many mugshots. I do think there's a subplot, but it's irrelevant. That would be the whole cold-fusion thing, which is there to serve up the oil companies and Goldman Sachs for helping them out. Mulligan's character worked my last nerve; no liberal blogger could possibly be such a tender young sprout and survive. And am I the only one who noticed that when LaBeouf writes his "Churchill Schwartz" expose, the camera shows us the lede of Matt Yglesias's Rolling Stone philippic, WORD FOR WORD with only the name of the bank changed? I kind of enjoyed the nerve of that, but I'd have been happier if the movie had just stuck to Goldman. Or moral hazard. Or Bear. Or the housing crisis...

  2. Interesting that you also singled out Hannibal as the precedent. It's the epitome of the broken-backed plot: it finishes at the halfway mark, and then has to restart its momentum entirely from scratch. And for the reason you point out: the return of a much-loved villain, the screenwriters inability to choose between playing him as lovable or a villain, and deciding to do both, first one, then, after a restart, the other. I like your description of Mulligan as a sprout, although I did like that chin wobble she did during the reconciliation scene. Maybe mourning her lack of a part.