More than 20 years after Michael Douglas won an Oscar as scheming Wall Street trader Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s acclaimed film, the character’s mantra – ‘greed is good’ – rings louder and clearer than ever.
The global recession continues to bite and much of the blame is laid at the revolving doors of avaricious bankers, who took big risks and somehow enjoyed massive bonuses for their spectacular failure.
Against this backdrop of mismanagement, writer-director Stone returns to the hallowed halls of New York’s financial district, where banks go cap in hand to the US government for bailouts to strengthen the system’s crumbling foundations.
Aside from a brief cameo from Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox, Gekko is the only returning character for the sequel, which pits Douglas’s dinosaur, who has been languishing behind bars, against a new generation of men in suits.
The global financial landscape may have changed but the pursuit of profits at the expense of friendships and the natural world has not.
As the lead character in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he tells his environmentally conscious fiancee: “The only green is money, honey.”
The film opens in 2008 with Gekko (Michael Douglas) being released from prison with his effects, which include a gold money clip and a hefty, brick-like mobile phone.
He emerges into a world that is firmly controlled by the financial community and teetering on the brink of ruin.
Gordon finds new success with a best-selling book and tour, telling his adoring public: “The mother of all evil is speculation. It’s a global disease, like cancer, and we’ve got to fight back.”
In the audience is ambitious trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who is the boyfriend of Gordon’s estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
He is inspired by Gordon’s words but knows that making contact would jeopardise his relationship with the woman of his dreams.
When Jake’s mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) commits suicide after his beloved company is taken over by vicious rival Bretton James (Josh Brolin), the young man swears revenge and enlists the help of Gordon to destroy Bretton and the people he works for.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps bares its teeth at the banking community but ultimately doesn’t draw blood, using the current recession as a hook for a retread of the original film with some tearful father-daughter bonding thrown in for good measure.
LaBeouf and Mulligan are well matched and both cry convincingly as they struggle to keep their relationship afloat in a sea of lies and betrayal.
Douglas clearly relishes the chance to slip back into the designer threads of his signature role, gleefully taking on old enemies by promising: “Stop telling lies about me and I’ll stop telling the truth about you.”
Underestimate him at your peril.
STAR RATING: ***