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“Wall Street II” Lacks Moral Clarity of 1987 Film

by Borderstan.com — September 28, 2010 at 10:02 pm 0

Mary Burgan Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

Gordon Gekko was a terrific dresser in the Oliver Stone’s first Wall Street (1987), and he doesn’t let the admirers of his sartorial splendor down in the 2010 sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was released Friday. No, he doesn’t wear the splendid suspenders that he turned into all the rage in the late ’80s. But, the follow-up film shows him on a shopping spree in London.

Tailors caress Gekko’s now appropriately bulky shoulders with silky woolen jackets, fit his feet with gleaming leathers–“I’ll take four of those,” he says–and ply him with shirts.

It’s all done with an abundance that hasn’t been so celebrated since F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in 1925. There Daisy Buchanan comments, “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such–such beautiful shirts before.”

In Wall Street I (as I refer to the 1987 original), as in Gatsby, everyone understands that clothes do not make the man. That understanding is never clear in Wall Street II (as I call the newly released follow-up). There’s a lot to like in the current film: the updating of the Manhattan skyline it more breathtaking, its crowds are more anxiously hurried, and its array of computer screens more stupefying than in the first film.

Moral Clarity Lacking in Wall Street II

What the remake lacks is the moral clarity that drove the first Wall Street. Without that moral clarity, the second Wall Street is kind of a mess, and the messiness shows up in the plot and the casting.

In the plot, the drive is to rehabilitate the Gordon Gekko character. That is to be achieved by the influence of his estranged daughter, played winningly by Carey Mulligan. But she doesn’t have much to work with in her fiancée, a callow youth, played by Shia LaBeouf.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have wasted a vacant hour watching the end of Terminator: Revenge of the Fallen on HBO, but I wanted to get a view of the new teen heart throb. There he played an earnest youth, coping with the monsters by looking brave. LaBeouf seems to be playing the same role as Jake Moore in Wall Street II, but earnestness is not enough to counter the temptations that come with all that money.

Father Figures

One way to get a sense of the problem for the young hero in the latest film is to compare the father figures in each. The callow Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) in the first film has a wise and commanding mentor in his father, Carl Fox (Martin Sheen). This father sets the values in the film by bringing in the world of real work into the world of fast-talkers who buy and sell stocks on the inspiration of a whisper. Carl Fox is a counter weight to the mesmerizing Gordon Gekko.

In the sequel there is no such counter weight. Young Jake Moore has been mentored by a figure in his investment banking firm named Louis Zabel, played very well by Frank Langella, but unlike the father in the first Wall Street, Langella is deep into the game, and gives his protégé a check for 1.5 million as a sign of his approval. That gift floats in the film without much comment on its lavishness, except that it buys a nice engagement ring for Gekko’s daughter.

But then, talk about lavish, there is the father of it all–Gordon Gekko. still played to the swaggering hilt by Michael Douglas. He and Langella are two of the reasons to see the movie, and so is Susan Sarandon, though she has only a few brief scenes.

For the rest, there are only the lagging plot, the uninteresting young protagonist, and the equivocation about the attractions of greed–recorded with glittering fascination in brilliant color.

The American Myth

I suppose I could sum up the whole thing, in both the first and second Wall Streets, as the perennial American myth. Nick Carraway described it best: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning…” [You add the last line.]*

As for me, I’d rather go back and visit the town of Bedford Falls, New York, in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) any old day than sit through the New York of Wall Street II another time. It’s reassuring to watch George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) fight against the mean old banker, Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) and to share the film’s understanding that greed really is bad.

*Okay, so here’s the line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan

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