Set in 2008, the story follows ambitious young protagonist, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a broker who specializes in alternative energy at a large firm who watches as the stock market takes its sudden historic downturn. His sage mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), then commits suicide when faced with having to sell the firm to an eccentric billionaire, Bretton James (Josh Brolin). But did James have a hand in spurring Zabel's death (something to do with stocks and stuff)? That's right - there's a revenge story, and Gordon Gekko, released from prison and ready for a comeback, is there to take advantage of the situation.
In some ways, Wall Street: Revenge of the . . . er, I mean Money Never Sleeps resembles Stone's pseudo-docudrama Platoon. Jake first becomes involved with Gekko because he's engaged to his daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), and he soon finds his soul being fought over by his idealistic fiancee and his scheming future father-in-law. He's conflicted over Gekko's guidance in succeeding in the cutthroat world of finance, his vision obviously clouded by vengeful rage. He also wants to do good, as we see in his eco-conscious line of work and his attraction to someone involved with a liberal watchdog website (Winnie runs a site with the awful name of Frozen Truth - short brain storming session that day). That might be why Jake doesn't see that Gekko is all too willing to turn the situation to his own benefit.
While there's plot, there's little explanation of the business that's driving it. The characters bandy plenty of financial terms about, with lots of "sub prime this" and "equity shares that". It immerses the audience in a world where people know what this language means, but it does little to help them understand it. I'm not even going to pretend to know how James manipulated the stock market, which led to Zabel's death, and Jake's boardroom speech to foreign investors may as well have been in Klingon. (Maybe this is Stone's roundabout way of showing how this confusion led to our downfall - if we can't understand how this capitalism works, then assholes like Gekko get to play with our money, which, apparently, never sleeps).
The character drama also takes away from the power of the real-life drama Stone has set out to depict. You would think there is enough material to draw upon that he doesn't need to focus on an obvious Shakespearean revenge story (Zabel's ghost, like in Hamlet, literally haunts Jake). What's worse is the dismissive redemptive fairy tale ending he throws in, knocking the entire message of both Wall Streets off track.
All the unnecessary special effects and graphics Stone employs also make it hard to take him seriously. When people are on their computers during suspenseful moments, the screen often splits and becomes filled with lines of data like a scene out of some '90s cyber-thriller. My boyfriend put it best when, after the screening, he quipped, "Oliver Stone has never met a special effect he doesn't like." I definitely got that here - animated money and piggy banks have no place in a serious movie.
I'm beginning to believe that the only reason Stone's movies can be pulled off is through the strong performances of his actors. LaBeouf, Mulligan and, of course, Douglas all shoulder the movie, and when they have to deliver completely cornball lines like, "Money is a bitch that never sleeps!", they do so convincingly. He also somehow got the awesome musical pairing of David Byrne and Brian Eno to do the soundtrack. It was Byrne's likeable monotonic vocals that managed to get me through scene after frustrating scene.
But I've never liked Oliver Stone. I think he's a hack of the highest degree. Natural Born Killers is an abomination to human kind, and as the man grows older, his films get worse. I cringe to think that anyone walked away from World Trade Center and W. with reverence. Look up "too soon" in the dictionary, and you'll see a picture of Stone's bloated, splotchy face. This sequel makes it all the more definitive.