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It isn’t easy living up to the iconic film “Wall Street”. It capped the excess of Wall Street just months after Black Monday in 1987 and for years after inspired thousands of new traders who memorized Gekko’s famous speech. After 23 years Oliver Stone’s sequel is a little late - arriving more than 2 years after the bear market of 2008 - and is sadly, more than a little underwhelming.
The new title by the way comes from a conversation between Gordon Gekko and his soon to be son-in-law, Jake Moore (played by Shia LaBeouf). The actual line uttered by Gekko is “Money is a bitch that never sleeps.” but I suppose that is a little too risque for American tastes so it is redacted to a more chaste, “Money never sleeps”.
The tone of the movie is very different from the first. Whereas the first was about a Wall Street player in his prime, this is about the same character in the winter of his life, in search of redemption. Gekko turns his creed ‘Greed is good’ into a question, ‘Is greed good?’. But forever a trader, Gekko trades his friendship and assistance to Jake for access to his estranged daughter.
In the film, a firm standing in for Goldman Sachs is presented as the epitome of evil and a surprising contrast to a now chastised Gekko. The imagery used to construct the coming financial collapse however is about as subtle as a charging rhinoceros.
For example, when Jake is talking with his mentor as they walk in a park, children are playing nearby and blowing soap bubbles that float in the air. There is repeated and explicit reference made to the Dutch tulip mania and other financial bubbles. And the protagonist’s mother is a real estate agent getting squeezed by the crashing real estate market. On the bright side the film has several cameo appearances including Jim Chanos, Oliver Stone himself and even Bud Fox.
Sadly, the dialogue feels forced and a lot of cliches get thrown around in place of believable conversations. For example we hear the old Wall Street adage about “bulls, bears and pigs” and at one point Jake says that “CDS are a good idea, but it is the execution that isn’t”.
For anyone who knows of the world portrayed in the story it is irritating to see the film get so much wrong. For example, the definition of moral hazard is incorrectly given as “when someone takes your money and isn’t responsible for it”. That made me cringe, especially as it was uttered by none other than Gekko himself.
And in the climactic conference room meeting to determine the fate of Wall Street, in response to the $700 billion bailout package, the Treasury Secretary blurts out, “This is socialism, I’ve fought it all my life!”
Coming from a teabagger, I would forgive the ignorant kneejerk bellyaching but the Treasury Secretary would know that this is corporatism, not socialism. The funny thing is that the US would have been so lucky to have been as socialist as Sweden when it was confronted with its own banking crisis in the early 1990’s. Had the US followed the ’socialist’ Swedish model, they would have extracted equity in return for the injection of liquidity - instead of just empty assurances. And of course, in ’socialist’ Sweden when the banks recovered the government sold their equity in an orderly fashion and the people came out none the worse.
Sadly regulatory capture is so intense in the US that this was not even on the table. So to misrepresent the situation so drastically is just asinine. I apologize for the digression and yes, I do realize that the film is a work of fiction. But it is inspired by real events and so it must at least get the salient facts correct. Unfortunately, it fails to do so spectacularly.
I won’t give away the climactic build up and twist because there’s no need to. It is rather predictable. Honestly, I really wanted to like this movie but I just can’t recommend it. If you’ve watched it, let me know what you thought, especially if you disagree with me.
I’m looking forward to watching ‘The Inside Job’, a new documentary narrated by Matt Damon featuring an unbelievable list of insider interviews. Here’s the trailer:
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