Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s sequel to his Wall Street (1987), is worth seeing simply for a brief speech delivered near the beginning to young hedge fund workers and other youngsters in the Wall Street Financial Sector by the now best-selling author–Is Greed Good?–and ex-con, Gordon Gekko, back on the Street once again twenty years after Bud Fox incriminated him for insider trading by wearing a wire for the FBI. Gekko’s speech is a brilliant, poetic, compelling diagnosis of much of what caused the Great Recession. I’ve not come across a better-spoken such analysis in nearly three years of determined digging to find the handful of effective detectives who have given us honest and incisive post mortems. (Once, as a favor to a friend, I taught a course in public speaking for one quarter at a university for students from Asia, the Middle East and Europe and for whom English was their “second language.” My example of informal, extemporaneous public speaking was a video of corporate raider Gordon Gekko speaking at the Teldar Paper Company’s annual shareholder meeting in the original Wall Street, a marvel of a performance I am sure you well recall. This second informal speech by the superb Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is just as good and much more important. (My students loved Gekko’s earlier speech; their self-consciousness fell away under his spell of cocky, con-man confidence as shown by their own performances.)
The rest of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn’t a signature drama of The Great Recession: there is considerable Hollywood schlock wrought through a tangled storyline. But at its center, it is an estimable movie drama of the massive disaster.
Stone has done his homework–he’s read the few available revelatory, investigative sleuthing books and articles; and one day he spent two extraordinarily insightful and guiding hours with Eliot Spitzer when the latter hadn’t yet been seen to have reincarnated Macbeth and shortly traced to room something or other at the Mayflower Hotel, Spitzer being yet rounding ’em up on Wall Street while topping the Wall Street Journal’s Most Despised list.
McLean and Nocera, Gasparino, Cohan, Lewis, Dorgan, Phillips–Stone has fashioned his sequel by rather cleverly synthesizing and extracting from such crucial sources, especially for 2007-08, creating composite characters, classic scenes and the culture and spirit of monumental leveraging dramatizing those mythic vampires whose money never need sleep during sunshine. The Spitzer meeting apparently alerted Stone to Double Dipping Shorting on the Street. Appropriately in this fairly good detective movie, the Great Shorting becomes the new lowest circle in the Inferno, below the subprimes, the CDS’s, and their ilk.
Missing entirely are some other infernal circles, namely, those of the the pols’ complicity, Rubin to Paulson; the Financial Services Modernization Act; the secretive restrictions on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s authority; the now-fabled quiet and successful meeting involving Hank Paulson, still a financier, and colleagues in the SEC basement on loosening the Net Equity Requirement; and many others. Nary a peep is heard.
Paulson, played by a look-alike, is only seen angry, nervous and stunned in last-minute meetings with Wall Street denizens in which Stone’s composite of Blankfein-Prince-Dimon tells the fearsome Hank what he can do with moral hazard–forget it–because the alternative is the End of the World, so give us the $800 billion under TARP. According to Stone, it was “Gotcha, Hank!”
This dramatization is laughably simplistic. Why doesn’t Stone want to do better? We’ll probably never know. My suspicion: the suits didn’t want it. Maybe for several reasons. The audience is too dumb not to be confused by complexity. We might help the Tea Party frenzy to grow even more. Some of our favorite pols are complicit. The audience is too dumb to remember that Bush, not Obama, was still president during the time depicted in the movie.
Stone does try to weave into the plot the crucial wisdom that America needs investment in superior and beneficial technology, here a potential energy breakthrough that deserves backing both for jobs and for vital conservation of the environment, as the means to right our ship of state. The message is, however, diminished by a heavy-handed dramatization of a subversion of that venture.
On the positive side, Susan Sarandon is in the movie, playing a Little Person who gets swept up in the disaster because she quits her job as a nurse at a hospital and starts some amateurish real estate speculative buying in the naive euphoria of amateur investors just before the subprime mess begins. After all, the trap springeth on Main Street, too. What Sarandon manages to convey in just a few appearances is magical.
Certainly you won’t leave the viewing of this movie in the most cheerful of moods. Gekko makes a closing comment on Homo sapiens. There’s no need for me to tell you the gist.
Here is Gekko’s speech in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yv4bbOBo-U