In 1987, Oliver Stone's Wall Street pulled back the curtain on the dark side of the financial industry. According to recent reviews, this fall's sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, updates the director's stern take on American greed.
This time, the raw rapacity of the 1980s has become wedded to a financial system that is so complex that even its manipulators may not completely understand their actions. In short, the famous director is taking us into the heady world of Fabrice Tourre, Goldman Sachs (GS) and collateralized debt obligations.
Those Were the Simple Frauds
The Wall Street schemes in Stone's original movie were remarkably simple by today's standards: Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko, a ruthless corporate raider, convinces the naive Charlie Sheen to give him insider information. Gekko then uses the information to make scads of money. In the end, everything works out: Sheen's fresh-faced young broker turns in his mentor, Gekko goes to prison, and the moral balance of the universe is restored.
This simple morality tale reflected the Wall Street scandals of the day. Stone based Gekko on Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Dennis Levine and other prominent money men. Like them, Gekko was a well-established wheeler and dealer in his early fifties. He knew what he was doing and his plot was fairly easy to understand.
Fast-forward 23 years and the schemes have gotten far more complex, making it possible for some of Wall Street's biggest malefactors to convincingly claim that they didn't actually know what they were doing to the economy. Recently, Tourre, the 31-year-old Goldman Sachs vice president indicted for securities fraud, offered what might be the quote of the decade when one of his e-mails was made public.
'The Building Is About to Collapse'
In January 2007, standing on the threshold of the greatest financial crisis in sixty years, Tourre wrote: "The whole building is about to collapse anytime now... Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab...standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities [sic]!!!"
By all accounts, Money Never Sleeps is firmly based in this world, in which the wise, confident Masters of the Universe have been replaced by frenzied cardsharps throwing the dice with little understanding of the long-term implications of their actions. Charlie Sheen's fresh-faced, callow young Jedi apprentice has been replaced by Shia LaBeouf's confused Jacob Moore. A hungry young trader, Moore is engaged to Gekko's daughter and finds himself drawn to the ex-convict and pulled into complex, unethical money-making schemes.
Of course, Douglas is back, exuding the mix of jolly menace and threatening charisma that made Gekko so attractive in 1987. This time around, though, he is more hero than goat, providing a foil to primary villain Bretton James, a thin-faced, vulpine hedge fund manager played by Josh Brolin. Already screened at Cannes, early reviews suggest a movie that is equal measures confusing and infuriating, suggesting that Stone may have once again captured the Wall Street zeitgeist.
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