Rating: 3 out of 5
Oliver Stone has often expressed distress that corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the personification of monetary malevolence and moral bankruptcy, has been adopted as a role model by many aspiring stockbrokers. It’s much like how the allure of Tony Soprano makes viewers want to be mobsters, although that’s the explicit opposite intention of both cautionary tales.
There aren’t any grey areas this time; Money Never Sleeps makes it perfectly clear that greed is no longer good. Bretton James (Josh Brolin) is the antagonist in this piece, a Gekko 2.0 so to speak. He’s more evil and more malicious (a by-product of the reality Gekko helped create both in reality and film) but sadly not nearly as enthralling or expressive as Gekko.
The movie pushes the pace in so many directions (fantastic for momentum but terrible for characterization) that Bretton isn’t afforded the time to be developed as anything other than a hammy caricature.
While its predecessor was a story of a man already corrupt (Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox, who makes a deliriously cheesy cameo here) who later learns integrity, Money Never Sleeps is straightforward Faustian yarn. Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is addicted to the aggressive gamesmanship of finance as much as Gekko is, but he’s essentially a good guy (he believes in pumping the green into green technology) who makes a deal with the devil.
Jacob suspects Bretton of causing the ruin of his Wall Street bank (a fictionalised composite of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch) and the subsequent suicide of his beloved mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Jacob’s desire for revenge leads him straight into the manipulative embrace of antihero Gekko – who also happens to be a potential future father-in-law. Jacob’s long-time girlfriend is Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
Stone on steroids is likely the only apt way to describe Money Never Sleeps. The movie is filled with his visual trademarks and then some. Crazy dissolves, jarring animations, jaunty spilt-screens and a dizzyingly kinetic camera, like the film’s figurative sharks, that can’t stop moving lest it die of boredom.
When the movie soars, it’s exhilarating; Stone sweeps you up in the frenzy of the finance game (characters repeatedly refer to Wall Street as a game, with the obvious implications). You may not know the acronyms and jargon but you understand what the motives are what the results of certain moves will be and that’s enough to understand the adrenaline rush.
Unfortunately forward motion can only get you so far and eventually the flaws in one’s narrative become catches up. Scenes set against children playing with bubbles (it’s all fun and games until the bubble bursts kids!) exemplifies the kind of heavy-handed metaphor and preachy soapboxing the film degenerates into.
Money Never Sleeps is a simplistic critique on a complicated issue sullied by an ending so cheap that it runs contrary to Stone’s own themes - there are no tidy resolutions to the dishonest mess Gekko’s created.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.