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Money Never Sleeps

by Kavish Chetty / 30.09.2010

Wall Street 2 is surprisingly merciful to that crass alleyway of capitalism. Among all the tempestuous meltdowns and suicides that have characterised the last few years financially, I expected this film to be two hours of Stone-esque diatribe: oblique Marxian critiques of political economy; greedy pigs in pinstripe with the crosshair aimed at their guts. Instead, this film is really just a drama about personal ambition and personal greed. It’s a thriller rushing along on a permanently peaked-up pulse – sassy (I couldn’t help myself) and sexy.

Shia LaBeouf plays Jacob: impeccably dressed in tailor-made threads, the perfect angles of his wardrobe are in themselves enough of an advert for materialism. His house has widescreen views of the city and pretty, expensive things all over the tables. Presumably, he’s made this living for himself as a highly ambitious financial trader. He’s engaged to Winnie, an indie girlfriend who is rather fashionably employed as an eco-journalist (can you see the inevitable tensions in their relationship already?). Her father is Gordon Gekko – he was jailed at the end of the first film for insider trading. Now he’s fresh out of prison. He tries to warn economists that the system is heading for an overload, but no-one wants to believe an ex-convict (just can’t get hisself a break, man) so he spends his time trying to get in touch with his estranged daughter via Jacob. Let’s not fuck around here: Gekko (Michael Douglas) is a sly sonofabitch, slick as the greying licks on his bourgeois head. He’s going to double-cross and triple-cross and crisscross his way throughout the plot, revealing the potency of his original motto: “greed is good”.

Shia LaBeouf

I haven’t seen the Oliver Stone 1987 film to which this plays sequel, but I hear it’s better. Two decades later, this film has the perfect contemporary context into which to set up stage: the 2008 financial crisis. The parts of this film that are actually about finance (stock-market suckers playing ‘chicken’ on the trading floor etc.) are obscure and complex. I had to use later scenes to play catch-up and piece together what had happened in the earlier thrusts. Until I realised about mid-way through that this film isn’t actually about finance as much as it is about personal drama – Wall Street is just an expedient setting to explore greed, ambition, betrayal and all those other darker tropes of the drama/thriller that keep us fascinated. The plot may have softened towards the end to make way for a happy ending, but don’t be disheartened – this film’s multiple climaxes (and a great soundtrack) are first-class. The consistent attraction was the cast. I haven’t seen either of the Transformers films, so LaBeouf came across as genuinely brilliant, while Michael Douglas… Come on, judge, it’s Michael Douglas: the older he gets the more his suave self-assuredness suits the creases in his skin.

I could sit here and wax Neomarxist, quoting cultural heroes like Adorno, Marcuse, Foucault and Zizek, but I think Brandon Edmonds has already plotted out that territory for himself. It’s enough to say that this film isn’t the lacerating capitalist critique us young Marxists were salivating for, but it’s a solid thriller from the director that made Natural Born Killers. All the pretty things in this film… they make me wish I’d never quit law school.

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