Oliver Stone has always pulled off an uneven juggling act as filmmaker, historian, and journalist, training his active mind on matters of learning from history while still tracing what’s unfolding before us. His sense of timing isn’t always perfect, as when he put out W just as Bush was leaving the White House. This year, however, Stone’s filmography is right on the money, so to speak, with two separate and unrelated films: The fine, if necessarily rush-jobbed documentary South of the Border (a brief account of the new political landscape in Latin America), and the propitiously timed and real-world scary Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
When Stone’s original Wall Street came out in 1987, we could watch with some detached awe, as if checking in on the circus of evil folly that was Wall Street’s “morally hazardous” games. It’s another story with the sequel, coming out only two years after the debacle. Nowadays, we’ve come to regard Wall Street as an inhumane and vaguely satanic cesspool of greed.
But Stone still goes for Hollywood stereotypes and feel-good clichés to sell his stories, where a bit more intelligence or even artier tactics would deepen the goods. Instead we’re left with varying degrees of white hats (Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan) and black hats (slick, conniving financier played by Josh Brolin), with our old friend Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) switching-hitting both. Here, Gekko gets out of jail early, and spends much of the film keen on two goals—winning back the love of his disapproving daughter and getting his hands on some serious capital, with which to leverage his way up to a much more serious pile of capital.
Assorted visual froufrou is injected into the melodramatic mix, including split screens, ironic iris shots, and drunken bird’s eye roaming around lower Manhattan. An interesting scene at the Metropolitan Museum includes teasing, swirling shots of bored, über-rich women and the lifestyles of those we might assume have helped ensure the world’s current economic meltdown. But that’s just the everyperson’s paranoia at work, triggered by filmmakers’ sly and subtle bidding. Mostly though, subtlety takes a holiday here.