Catching up with Gordon Gekko after his spell serving time for various money-related indiscretions, this Wall Street sequel does of course, hit screens at a time when the behaviour of bankers is of great interest to many of us. There’s no doubting that the film has the capacity to be a timely and appropriate send-up of the people to blame for the economic crisis, but whether or not Money Never Sleeps can fulfil this potential is another matter…
The film follows Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie, played by a simpering Carey Mulligan, and her fiancé Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who works for the bank Keller Zabel. When the company collapses, Moore turns to Michael Douglas’ Gekko for help avenging the evil Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who not only triggered Keller Zabel’s fall, but also accelerated the entire credit crunch with his scare-mongering rumours.
Aside from Mulligan’s often awful American accent (some scenes are played out entirely in a perfect home counties inflection), the performances in Money Never Sleeps are largely faultless. In particular, Eli Wallach and Susan Sarandon are fantastic in supporting roles and the cast as a whole achieves a pleasant mix of humour and tension throughout.
If you’re not a City fat cat yourself, I recommend sneaking a cheat sheet of financial terms into the cinema to give you a better chance of working out exactly how “15% leverage on toxic debt” and “sub-prime mortgage-backed securities” will affect the film’s characters. Phrases like these pepper the dialogue and there seems to be little attempt by Stone to explain them, apart from a few incongruous graphics outlining the route of the free-falling share prices.
Frankly, the general theme is best conveyed by Gekko himself, when he warns those listening at a lecture he is giving that “you’re all pretty much f***ed.” Few caught up in the recent recession would argue with his summary of the current state of play, but the problem with Money Never Sleeps is that not one of the characters is ever shown being “pretty much f***ed”.
Jacob is apparently hard-up after the collapse of Keller Zabel, but the worst indignity that seems to befall him is having to sell his bike and Gekko, who emerges from prison with little to show for himself – save a spectacular ‘80s “mobile” phone – is shown living what most would consider to be the high life just a few years later.
Since the audience isn’t afforded the satisfaction of seeing the worst of these greedy bankers truly suffer, perhaps director Oliver Stone might have shown us more of the impact of the crisis on ordinary people, just to underscore the level of damage that Wall Street did. Jacob’s mother is shown to be struggling with cash-flow problems but generally, the carnage caused by the financiers as the credit crunch unravelled is merely referred to occasionally as a side note.
Had the film covered more of the crushing effects of their actions, these villains might have seemed a whole lot more villainous and the film would have proved more relevant to audiences still feeling the sting of the recession. In spite of this, the sequel does manage to capture the cruel and brutal mood around the time of the crash. Like the original Wall Street offering, Money Never Sleeps provides a snapshot of the reckless, giddy world these people inhabit.
Dissolute men crawl around a persuasively seductive Manhattan, screwing each other over in a dangerous game of one-upmanship that can only end in tears. Stone presents us with a convincing and terrifying portrayal of the time before and during the onset of the financial crisis and the message is clear: Wall Street is a mess; a tangle of fear and deceit. The depiction of an appalling suicide at the beginning of the film brings this point home with striking efficacy.
Money Never Sleeps is certainly an enjoyable piece of cinema, with its spot-on performances and great cinematography conspiring to offer an absorbing insight into what it must have been like on Wall Street at the moment the banks lost control. Leaving aside the tiresome and ploddingly predictable storyline between Gekko and Winnie, the plot works and it’s an engaging ride.
However, audiences still reeling from the exploits of the greedy bankers and hungry for a powerful interpretation of what went on may not find their appetites satisfied. This greed is good, but it’s not quite good enough.