“Greed is good”, so said Gordon Gekko played masterfully (enough to be deigned the best for the year by the Academy) by Micheal Douglas in Wall Street. That film, directed by Oliver Stone became a big success not just financially but also in developing a sustained following. It is recommended viewing for every management graduate. It inspired a lot of Americans to become stockbrokers. It talked about insider trading and scams and became relevant for Indians after Harshad Mehta became “famous”. Wall Street was a phenomenon in itself. What it lacked was a sequel. Until now.
Wall Street – Money never sleeps (title inspired by a dialogue in the original film, go look out for it) follows Gordon Gekko as he completes his jail term and walks out. That he is out of sync with the world is beautifully symbolized by the prison warden giving him his famous 1980s model brick sized cell phone back. He walks out of the prison, looking for someone near and dear to pick him up. He finds noone. He feels disowned by everyone he knew (a scene whose relevance is known later). The focus then shifts to the character of Shia LeBouf, a trader at Wall Street engaged to Gekko’s daughter, a liberal blogger who hates her father. LeBouf is given a fat bonus by his boss cum mentor. One can guess what happens next. His bank (people call it a homage to Lehman Bros. I believe it is more close to Bear Stearns) collapses. It is taken over by a consortium of banks for a pittance. The mentor commits suicide. Here Stone has done well not to show the mentor as fully innocent. His bank is shown as holding a huge portfolio of sub prime holdings. The only thing wrong done on him was that this information was leaked prematurely. The work being of an old rival played by Josh Brolin who takes over the bank. Brolin seems to be playing the Gekko of the original.
So what is the real Gekko doing?
The real Gekko is now a writer on the financial market. He is shown as predicting the imminent crash. People call him soothsayer. I say, he is one of many who knew about the crash. He just has nothing to lose by revealing it. He is shown as living in a rented place and not being to afford to attend a charity ball. His anguish at not having the power he used to wield earlier is beautifully portrayed by Douglas. Douglas gives a speech titled “Is Greed good?” at LeBouf’s alma mater. He talks about the ills of the markets of today and the cancer known as leverage. He talks of the fancy names given to products which according to him are the same – the tools to fool everyone. Elsewhere he says “The Bulls make money, the Bears make money, the Pigs die”. One may think he is repenting his sins. However as Brolin later mentions in the film, is he ranting due to not enjoying the fruits of the con anymore? Anyhow, Gekko is approached by LeBouf regarding the crash and the reason for his mentor’s suicide. Gekko agrees to help only if LeBouf helps him in mending his relationship with his daughter. The trade is agreed upon.
Then one more crash. This one mirrors that which affected big fish like Goldman Sachs. Now Brolin goes to the Feds with a begging bowl. This time he is hopeful of getting a good deal because they are big. If they go down, the economy goes down. Very apt.
Somehow in the middle of documenting the 2008 crash, the revenge drama is sidelined. It picks up steam only in the last 30 minutes and gets resolved very abruptly and conveniently. Here the power of the blog is shown albeit very sketchily. It seems that Stone had a good story ready when somehow somewhere someone had an idea of mixing it with the entire 2008 story. The result is a strange screenplay which does not know what it is – a revenge drama or a docu drama.
However this does not mean that the film is not entertaining and informative. It des document the 2008 crash adeptly and should act as a good reference point, a good case study for business school if they want to revisit the Lehman – Sachs story. There are a lot of cameos in the film. Charlie Sheen replays his character in a memorable scene with Douglas. There is Warren Buffet spouting his gyaan. I would say that Douglas’s ideas and thoughts were inspired by him. Susan Sarandon plays LeBouf’s mother, a real estate agent (stock broker, blogger, real estate agent – LeBouf’s family covers all the players involved in the 2008 crash. A tad unrealistic.) who is clearly sold to the great real estate dream and does what Gekko warns us against – leverages hopelessly. Her last line is so typical of the American who has taken the dream for granted. LeBouf as the protagonist is adequate. However I still do not get why he is pronounced the chosen one by eminent filmmakers like Spielberg and Oliver Stone.
However as in the original, it is the Gekko who is the man to watch out for. Douglas slips into the boots of the character quite effortlessly after a gap of 20 years. He plays the role of an old, wounded tiger who is out to reclaim his kingdom with ease. He is the one who makes this sequel work. Hope we get another Wall Street soon. And not have to wait 20 years for it.