Wall Street 2: The Perfect Metaphor for the Financial Crisis

Senior Editor
09.29.10 17 Comments

Oliver Stone has won a best picture Oscar and delivered era-defining films on more than one occasion, his work inspiring everyone from the Gekko wannabes on the real Wall Street to the N-words who he says all love Scarface (his words, allegedly).  He might be the perfect director to deliver a film about American capitalism in that in both, the big question is, are they defined by their successes or their failures?  I don’t know the answer to that, I’m not a scientist.  But I can tell you that when Stone fails, he fails spectacularly.  In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Stone delivers a master class in how not to make a movie and creates a film which unintentionally mirrors the causes of the financial collapse it tries to dramatize — a pile of worthless elements cleverly configured to resemble something of value, but which is ultimately just a big stack of crap.

You can sense in it an attempt to define the financial excesses and failure of personal responsibility of the early 2000s era, but the scope is so broad and the critique so unfocused that it becomes little more than a pile of buzzwords.  MORTGAGE, LASER FUSION, CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS, BLOGGING!  Only in this movie do mortgage-backed securities and alternative energy have anything to with each other.  For a project with A-list stars, a critically-acclaimed director, and a blockbuster release, it has to be one of the clumsiest screenplays ever to make it to film.  I suspect that the problem, like a 2003-era mortgage prospectus, was that NO ONE BOTHERED TO READ THE FINE PRINT.

My guess is that someone, presumably screenwriter Allan Loeb, pitched Oliver Stone and/or the studio on the idea for a Wall Street sequel.  CAN IT HAVE THE MORTGAGE CRISIS AND CREDIT DEFAULT SWAPS AND GORDON GEKKO GETTING OUT OF JAIL, someone asked.  Yes, yes, of course it can have all of those things.  HOW ABOUT ALTERNATIVE ENERGY AND THE INTERNET AND MOTORCYLE FIGHTS AND JOSH BROLIN, said someone else.  Yes, yes, of course, it has all of those, plus backstabbing, global warming, and sexy parties.  It’s all there if you’ll just check pages 2, 5, 16, 21, 38, 45, 63, 73, and 115.  Why, this is just what we asked for!  It’s perfect, no need to check the rest!

Stone signed on, the studio put up the money, and it wasn’t until they actually started shooting it, that they realized they’d been had.  THE BUBBLE HAD BURST. AND IT WAS FILLED WITH QUEEFS.

This film is just buzz words crowbarred into stock drama scenes held together by talking-head montages with a ridiculous amount of product placement sprinkled on top.  The result plays like lorem ipsum dolor STOCKS sit amet SOLAR ENERGY consectetur adipiscing LEHMAN BROTHERS nec dui non nulla OIL SHALE MINING quis arcu vitae BAILOUT.  The only “social critique” is scattered ideas lifted from other sources and stitched together in such a way that reveals that the stitcher doesn’t seem to know what the hell he’s talking about.  The “drama” is totally disconnected from the story, because there is no story, only a series of dramatic “beats”. You know the writing is bad when every 10 minutes, there’s a fancy montage of infographics and CNBC reporters to move the story along with pure exposition.  Even within the scenes, the dialogue is as confused and full of mixed analogies as the story itself.  Its only saving grace is that it’s occasionally unintentionally hilarious.

“I know it sounds like Star Wars, love… but it could work!  …You could be like Captain America!”

I consider this one of the most gloriously retarded mixed analogies of the modern era.

Interspersed with that is a series of what feel like stock scenes from an acting book.  The girl angry at the father who was never there, the protege challenging his mentor, the protagonist showing up his rival in the boardroom, the idealist being corrupted by greed, and all the cheesy elements you’d think made up a drama if you were completely deaf to the actual storytelling.  THROWING REMOTES AT THE TV!  TEARING DOWN PICTURES! PUNCHING MIRRORS! STRIPPERS BOOZE AND MONEY!  Poor Carey Mulligan has to spend the entire movie reacting to lighting-fast story shifts like Simple Jack. Her entire purpose seems to be to get emotional about whatever Shia Labeouf tells her just happened in the previous scene.  Simple Jack da da back, simple jack sad!  Simple Jack pwegnant, simple jack happy!  Simple Jack no want ring, Simple Jack boyfwend make simple jack have a cry!  And layered on top of that is the idea that this Bablefish translation of a Michael Lewis book is supposed to be somehow didactic.  Which you can tell because, like everything else, the “message” moments are so laughably telegraphed that you expect the characters to suddenly break down the fourth wall and start speaking directly into the camera like the end of Reefer Madness.  “You too can stop financial meltdowns, and you, and you, and you.”

On some level, it seems Oliver Stone must have realized how bad this script was, because he threw at it every ostentatious formalistic trick in the modern videographer’s bag.  Split screens! Graphs! Insets! B-roll of bubbles! Floating vignettes!  MORE COWBELL!  At one point, Shia Labeouf is in the car with his girlfriend when he gets a call from his secretary.  His secretary’s head pops up on the screen as a floating vignette, and when Shia starts talking to her, the vignette floats across the screen and stops over his fianceé’s face.  GET IT? IT’S LIKE HE’S MARRIED TO HIS JOB.  I swear to God this film has everything but a star wipe.  But it goes with the theme, because Wall Street 2 is not a movie so much as it’s a collection of movie tricks.

By the way, does putting an unprecedented amount of product placement into movie that’s ostensibly supposed to be a critique of materialism qualify as irony?  I don’t know, but I sure could use a 5-hour energy drink, a shot of Patron, a couple Heinekens, a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue, and my Degree deodorant before I go for a ride on my Ducati with Josh Brolin, that dreamboat gets my pits all stinky.

Here’s a snip from a telling article:

Luxury brands are prominent in the movie in part because of product-placement deals. “Money Never Sleeps” is awash in goodies loaned by Cie. Financière Richemont  SA, such as IWC and Vacheron Constantin watches and Dunhill accessories. The companies have legions of publicists working to get the word out on which character wears Cartier and which dons Jaeger-LeCoultre.

I know, I know, these people are supposed to be materialistic, brands are part of their world and blah blah blah.  But there’s a reason that back in the 80s, all the Wall Street guys wanted to dress like Gordon Gekko after the original Wall Street came out, even though Gordon Gekko was supposed to be the villain.  The reason is that Oliver Stone is not a cultural critic, Oliver Stone is a pornographer. He’s really good at making things look sexy.  Finding nuance… not really his forte. Wall Street, Any Given Sunday, that was good porn.  Money Never Sleeps is not.  Money Never Sleeps is the kind of porn where the girl has pimples on her butt and the cameraman misses the money shot.  That said, it is a fine critique of the financial crisis.  Just not in the way it was intended.

Grade: B if you go for the comedy (it had nearly as many laughs as Jonah Hex, it just drags a lot more), D if you go expecting a good movie.

Post script: Brendan would like it known that he predicted the Entourage-style bad Charlie Sheen cameo a good 15 minutes before it happened.  I would like it known that when Shia LaBeouf’s girlfriend Winnie Gekko was about to tell him she was pregnant, I blurted, “I have something to tell you: I have a baby Gekko in my p*ssy,” and we all laughed like a bastard.

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