Stone’s take on the greed and problematic ethics of Wall Street remains relevant though there is a sense of mechanical dullness to the proceedings – interesting but not particularly compelling.
Dir. Oliver Stone
1987 | USA | Crime/Drama | 126 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for coarse language and nudity
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen
Plot: In the 1980s, an ambitious young broker is lured into the illegal, lucrative world of corporate espionage when he is seduced by the power, status, and financial wizardry of Gordon Gekko. But he soon discovers the pursuit of overnight riches comes at a price that’s too high to pay.
Awards: Won Best Leading Actor (Oscars)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Greed, Corporate Espionage, Ethics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
First Published: 3 Jul 2009
“Greed is good,” says Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in one of the most famous quotes from ‘80s American cinema. Gekko is as rich as anyone can get from shrewd investment although his methods may be sometimes illegal or unethical. “But everyone does it,” he claims nonchalantly.
On the other side of the coin is Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a stockbroker who dreams of living the high life with lots of cash flow. In the film, Fox charms his way into the tutelage of Gekko, learning the trade and getting lessons on how to make obscene amounts of money.
But in the picture’s most important scene, Fox confronts Gekko over his greed. “How much is enough?” The latter does not know. Does anyone? Wall Street is Oliver Stone’s critique of a world in which money is everything; everything else is secondary. Our world seems uncannily similar.
There must be something fundamentally wrong with our financial system when it values high-risk greed over low-yield ethics. It is hard to see such a system sustain itself and now with insurmountable debts and a collapsing economy, we must pay the price for our greed.
In a way, Stone’s film is visionary. Wall Street dissects the sins that make us slaves to the dollar sign. Greed. Pride. Lust. Envy. But he also observes that when our conscience is clear and we do what is morally right, greed can be controlled.
The film is photographed with an intensity that captures the madness and the fast-paced pursuit of easy money fueled by an environment where a phone call can mean millions gain or lost. Stone’s screenplay (written together with Stanley Weiser) is coherent and detailed but it fails to engage as it should.
“The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”
For the layman, watching Wall Street can be as tepid and boring as, well, reading a Wall Street journal. Stone’s assumes that most of us know stock market jargon and how the whole system works, but half the time we are actually scratching our heads.
To Stone’s credit, he does make the dialogue appear momentarily exciting but after a while, it becomes an indefinable chorus of frenzied garble.
The glue that makes Wall Street at the very least watchable is its characters. Douglas’ Oscar-winning performance is not great but it is convincing enough to arrest our attention.
Sheen does not match Douglas’ ferocious display of Gekko’s power and authority, but he does an adequate job portraying Fox whose character changes drastically in the film. The most understated performance goes to Martin Sheen, who depicts Fox’s father as resolute and moral, someone who never gives in to materialism.
Wall Street is an important film but it is not very entertaining. Even when the actors light up the screen, there is a feeling that underneath the whole façade of seemingly excellent filmmaking lurks a mechanical sense of dullness. This is not Stone at his worst; neither does it rank as one of his best.
Yet Wall Street is more relevant today than it was in the late ‘80s. It is a reminder to the Gekkos out there that greed destroys lives. Stone makes his statement and delivers the message with aplomb but his speech falls short of being spectacular.