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Hitting a wall: Why ‘Wall Street’ didn’t meet expectations

Courtney Cox | Tuesday, September 28, 2010

With a glowing cast of talented Hollywood mainstays and eager young artists, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” had the potential to be the film that defined a decade, in the same way that the original “Wall Street” did years before. The focus on the financial crisis, however, distracted from the most interesting character, Gordon Gekko, and placed too much emphasis on the weaker characters to truly give that thrill that had once captivated audiences.

Gordon Gekko, the quintessential money lover, was completely forgotten after his stint in federal prison and was replaced with a new Gekko, a man who had nothing left to live for but his estranged daughter. This odd recharacterization was puzzling throughout the entire film.

Audiences who fell in love with Oliver Stone’s first jab at the high stakes world of finance could not come to terms with the fact that he had now become a nobody. Gordon Gekko was on top of the world in the 80s, so how could it be that he had been forgotten entirely? In fact he makes an awkward attempt to network with businessmen at his favorite restaurant, but he is only greeted with a confused look and blank stares.

The role of villain is taken up instead by Bretton James (Josh Brolin). He is the head of a company that profited from the fall of Keller Zabel, the firm for which Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) works. Surely initiating the downfall of a major company and causing the head of that company to commit suicide is evil, but the audience doesn’t see much of this from Brolin’s acting.

Michael Douglas created the perfect picture of capitalistic greed with his portrayal of Gekko, yet Brolin’s portrayal of James is lackluster at best. The only menacing thing about Bretton James is his chiseled jaw. He’s simply too calm to be believable as a man who has invested his life in the game that is Wall Street.

The saving grace of this film, however, is Shia LaBeouf’s turn as Jake Moore. He clearly pulled from his own experience to channel the drive and passion that comes with youth and it paid off. LaBeouf solidified his transition into adulthood with this role.

LaBeouf made the hustle look attractive in the same way Charlie Sheen did in the original “Wall Street.” Without the smart up and comers, what would Wall Street be? At the same time he was emotional without being annoying or unbelievable. He developed a discrete sensitivity that showed at key moments throughout the film.

Another disappointment is the underutilization of Carey Mulligan. While it was nice to see that Stone gave her a promising career of her own, it still felt as though she was an afterthought in the plot. She was important, but only as a means towards further complicating the relationship between LaBeouf and Douglas.

Aesthetics played as important a role in this film as they did in the original. Directors didn’t attempt to showcase the extravagance of New York City, but they did choose to emphasize how sleek business can be. The portrayal of the appeal of power is one of the key elements that ties “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” to its predecessor.

The film was a decent attempt to connect the current financial crisis to a more personal story. It could have done better in creating a clear villain and it certainly should have kept Gordon Gekko as the greedy man everyone loved to hate (or even hated to love). It provided the perfect platform for LaBeouf to flourish, but otherwise was relatively weak.