Oliver Stone’s much-anticipated “Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps,” now in theaters, is well made and acted. Most of the reviews I have read are by film critics who use much different criteria than someone like me, who is looking to see how certain political and philosophical themes are presented, and not how well it is acted, edited or otherwise put together as a work of art.
It is the first attempt to put onto film perhaps the greatest trauma to erupt from within the United States since the Civil War. The depressions of the latter 19th century and the stock market crash of 1929 were, of course, somewhat on a par, but in terms of the worldwide consequences of the international financial meltdown of 2008 and its sheer unfathomable magnitude, this one was mammoth.
We’ve been attacked from without, by the British in the War of 1812, the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and the al Qaeda terrorists in 2001, and there were deadly invasions on the microscopic level, the flu pandemic following World War I and the AIDS epidemic. But when it comes to internally-generated social crises, the Civil War is the only event to match the seriousness of what unfolded on Wall Street and throughout the U.S. and global banking system in the summer and fall of 2008.
In this context, the movie bears a similarity of tone and surreality to good alien invasion films like “War of the Worlds” and “Independence Day,” insofar as the entire globe is depicted as suddenly placed at dire risk of obliteration.
The connection between this 2010 film and its predecessor, the 1980 “Wall Street,” where the character Gordon Gekko delivers his immortal speech in support of greed, is direct and intentional, and meant thereby to make a point.
Gekko is back, after serving eight years behind bars, again played masterfully by Michael Douglas. The new kid in the picture is now played by Shia LeBeouf, while Charlie Sheen, the kid in the 1980 version, makes a cameo appearance.
But the evil this time far eclipses Gekko’s excesses in the film made 30 years earlier. It is now epitomized by a frightening, nightmarish Goya painting, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” of a mortified, damned soul consuming his own flesh. In 30 years, Gekko’s greed had morphed into its consequence, something more akin to pure evil.
Two relevant points about what is presented in this new version of “Wall Street.”
The first concerns the references, spotted throughout the film, of the actual magnitude of the problem, and the extent to which the “financial services industry” had come to overwhelmingly dominate the global economy. There were references to $70 trillion in leveraged derivatives floating out there, the actual number being unknown to anyone.
It was noted that the banks, bailed out by TARP to the tune of $700 billion, got 100 percent of the value of their paper in bailout funds.
There were discussions of credit-default swaps and short sales that led to brokers making fortunes by betting on the failure of the stocks they sold to trusting investors. There were runs put on targeted stocks through rumor mills for purposes of nothing but taking them down to buy off at three cents on the dollar.
This is a brutal, dog-eat-dog world granted permission for eight years by the Bush administration to carry out Gekko’s “greed” agenda without regulation or restraint. And, oh yes, it is still going on.
Then there is the other way the film, by displaying the truth, drives a stake in the heart of the evil. It calmly but powerfully touts the promise of controlled nuclear fusion energy.
Here is, in fact, what Wall Street and the oil giants actually fear most, the ultimate alternative energy that, once harnessed, exists boundlessly, almost as common as sea water.
This twist makes this film a work of genius, a true blow against the machine. It is not about the usual low yield alternative energies, but the very process by which the sun, itself, burns, the potential source of the most powerful and abundant alternative to fossil fuels on the planet. Bravo!