Oliver Stone's `Wall Street' Sequel Draws Mixed Reviews: A Selection

Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” the sequel to his 1987 film about the financial world, opened today. Here’s a selection of excerpts.

Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal:

Michael Douglas’s performance in the sequel measures up to Gekko’s rep, but the rest of the movie is pumped up to the bursting point with gasbag caricatures, overblown sermons and a semicoherent swirl of events surrounding the economy’s recent meltdown. The story certainly holds your attention, but it’s a dramatic bubble about a financial bubble.

... There’s a nice irony in the veteran conniver coming on, during public appearances, as a cross between Cassandra and a common scold -- he rails against speculation as the mother of all evils, and denounces leveraged debt.

But his preachments sound awfully familiar at this juncture, and they’re played against a crisis that unfolds much too slowly to capture the frenzy of the September 2008 meltdown. A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Evoking most directly those clammy, vertiginous weeks in the late summer and early fall of 2008, when the much-prophesied Crisis of Capitalism appeared to be at hand, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” displays a grandiose ambition appropriate to its subject. In other words, Mr. Stone, never much for modesty, subtlety or the careful calculation of risk, has written a much bigger check than he could ever hope to cash.

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” finds Oliver Stone in an ebullient, I-told-you-so mood... The film’s lack of focus is almost criminal, but Schadenfreude energizes Stone. Everyone here is dancing on a bubble, and no one has the guts to admit the bubble is about to pop.

Kyle Smith, New York Post:

I liked Gordon Gekko better before he turned into Paul Krugman, but in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” he is still at his core a seductive high priest of the money-changers’ temples. Welcome back, you sly bastard.

The sequel to 1987’s “Wall Street” essentially makes no sense on either the micro or macro level, from clanking one- liners all the way up to the Meaning of Finance. But director Oliver Stone, perhaps realizing his own credit line with the studios has run thin in the two decades since he’s had a hit, is at least wise enough to give us as much eye candy as castor oil.

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer:

The film whipsaws between hyperbolic character study and preachy account of the recent financial meltdown. The two story lines are not well-integrated. Rather than seem to explain the financial meltdown of two years ago, “Money Never Sleeps” uses the 2008 banking crisis as decor.

Mostly, I just sat back and enjoyed the actors. No one is better than Douglas at slipping into the skin of a human snake. As Douglas slithers, (Shia) LaBeouf zags, unexpectedly good at playing the youth caught between social idealism and corporate pragmatism.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

In its own giddy, glib way, “Money Never Sleeps” evinces just as strong a hold on its times, when terms like “subprime” and “credit default swaps” -- which would have been virtually meaningless two decades ago -- are the lingua franca of the financial realm. The crimes that Gekko went to jail for in Oliver Stone’s original film now seem like child’s play compared with the shady deals his spiritual heirs have been confecting during his years in prison.

... If some of his references hit too squarely on the nose -- the shot of a child’s soap bubble standing in for the metaphoric financial version, for example, or the vaguely fascist corporate insignia of a malign CEO played by Josh Brolin -- Stone has a knack for pacing, detail and atmosphere that manages to feel authentic and fancifully allegorical at the same time.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

Greed may be good, as Gordon Gekko insisted once upon a time, but evil pays the bills, at least as far as “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is concerned. The best parts of this unfocused, erratic, downright messy sequel are the moments when the bad people take center stage.

So let’s hear it for Josh Brolin’s Bretton (don’t even think of calling him Bret) James, an investment banker with “an ego the size of Antarctica.” And some applause for the fearless 94-year-old Eli Wallach’s Julie Steinhardt, terrifying when he makes eccentric bird noises and talks about the crash of ‘29 and the end of the world. And we can’t forget Michael Douglas as Gekko Redux, at least in those moments when the film allows him to be as bad as he ought to be.

Todd Gilchrist, hollywoodnews.com:

“Wall Street” is less “Money Never Sleeps” and more “Movie Never Ends.”

... (T)he director, having long since lost the fire that fueled his creativity, has created what can only be described as a crass cash-in on a once compelling saga -- the sort of attention-grabber that generates commerce but few real conversations -- which is why “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a missed opportunity at best.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:

I wish the film hadn’t turned Gekko into such a sweetie; the script goes dangerously soft on its most valuable commodity. But a valuable commodity, in this market, can never be underestimated.

Tom Long, Detroit News:

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” wants to remind us: Greed is not good.

As timely as that message may be, it may also be somewhat unnecessary as millions of Americans look to their wrecked pension funds and underwater mortgages and shiver as unemployment statistics remain unnervingly high. Pretty much everybody knows it was greed that brought us to this messy state ... This sequel doesn’t so much amplify the first film’s message as offer a grand “Toldja so.” And it’s hard to argue with.

Rick Groen, Toronto Globe and Mail:

Maybe money doesn’t sleep but, through 2 hours and 15 minutes of meandering and pontificating, I’m afraid you might. If hubris, hypocrisy, untold billions and unpunished guilt are the stuff of drama, then there’s a great film to be made about the economy’s meltdown. Already, some very good documentaries have excavated the tawdry facts. By contrast, this is just tedious fiction.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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