In the current climate, most of us would agree that bankers couldn’t be more unpopular. So, from director Oliver Stone comes the topical return of an ‘80s icon, a man who inspired bankers everywhere with a penchant for cigars and red braces and the infamous slogan “Greed is good”. Yes, that’s right, Gordon Gekko is back.
The world of the Wall Street (in the two films, in any case) is a structure of protégé-mentor relationships built upon a ruthless pursuit of greed. The sequel also explores the consequences this has on the family. At the film’s centre is the returning outcast Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas with knowing charm and charisma) and an ambitious young investment banker, Jakob Moore (Shia LaBoeuf, with less charisma), who happens to be engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan). The film opens with Gekko’s release from prison and follows his attempt to repair the relationship with his daughter and reestablish himself in a transformed banking world.
Although this is clearly a film about and targeted at men, for me one of the main improvements on the original was the widened scope of female characters. And I’m not talking about Gekko’s new metaphor for money as a jealous woman. In this updated vision of Wall Street, there’s even a woman around the conference table, no longer a call girl waiting in the limousine outside. Carey Mulligan especially, gives an admirable performance as the passive victim who provides the moral centre of the film.
This film is certainly entertaining and beautifully polished. The New York landscape is wonderfully photographed and its glittering towers are neatly paralleled with the peaks and troughs of a stock market chart. The topical exploration of the banking crisis of 2008 cuts close to the bone – the US banks didn’t even let Stone film inside their buildings. Despite this however, the second installment has sadly lost some of the first film’s hard-hitting amoral edge and cutthroat machismo. Undoubtedly Douglas’ performance is a pleasure to watch, though Gekko is no longer a ruthless villain, more of a charming anti-hero. Unfortunately the pressure of starring in yet another sequel was starting to show for Shia LaBoeuf, after the critical failure of the latest Indiana Jones and Transformers films. What is worst however, is the final note of kiddie-bubble-blowing sentimentality.
Speaking as someone who doesn’t pretend to know too much about the world of banking, I came out still surrounded by a disappointing haze of ignorance. There were too many split screens showing too many people yelling too many acronyms down phones for me to follow with ease. The problem is that even Gekko is unsure as well and questions his own conviction: “Is greed good?”