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Wall St Reviewed

Wall St: Money Never Sleeps

Money never sleeps. A somewhat dramatic title but kudos for attempting to convey images of horror in a finance movie. The sequel to the 1987 outing that immediately turned into a cult hit with the very people it sought to ridicule has made a comeback to presumably add further quotes to the repertoire of trading desks around the world.

I watch relatively little film but occasionally find a reason to catch one that strikes a cord – the Hollywood interpretation of who needs scapegoating over the past four years seemed as good as any. Using the gift of 20/20 hindsight, Stone casts Gekko as the born-again contrarian who emerges from his enforced hiatus in prison to rail against the legalised con known as sub-prime mortgage derivatives. A lot of the big lines are expressed in narrative form and are little more than regurgitated memes from the financial press of the time – “everybody’s drinking the same koolaid”. It may provide a certain level of superficial authenticity for some but to me it seemed forced and created a sense of detachment not immersion.

The main protagonists other than Gekko are a young trader named Jake Moore and his fiancee Winnie, who happens to be Gekko’s daughter. The Gekko’s haven’t spoken since Gordon got jailed for insider trading and Winnie has since developed a healthy hatred for what she sees as greedy capitalists, spending her time working as a political activist – somewhat ironically out of her NYC apartment shared with her trader boyfriend and his banks of computer screens monitoring prices 24/7.

Jake is every inch the young ambitious Ivy League grad who was taken under the wing of a leading Wall St banker after acting caddy for him as a 12 year old. Even then the young Moore wouldn’t stop pestering him about stock prices and dividend yields. In a movie where several relationships are affected by deceit – greed of course being the motivating factor – the conflicting objectives of the couple provide the greatest sense of reality.

And so while the various shady/grand (the two co-exist in the film’s depiction of Wall St simultaneously) banking characters act out their survival instincts during the worst financial crisis since 1929 we are never really drawn to any of them but neither do we despise them much, curious ‘birdy’ character excepted. Perhaps there’s a lesson there in itself – that in depicting high powered corporate financiers they can be viewed largely as non-entities. I don’t feel it was Stone’s intent to cast such subtleties into the plot mix – there’s enough crude visual metaphors to assume it wasn’t his intent – but I get a hint of satisfaction that this bland side of corporates comes across, if only as a side-effect.

In one of the main twists in the plot – which comes amid a gently winding eye of the storm feel yet up to that point seemingly without consequence – Jake convinces Winnie to transfer over $100m that was resting in a Swiss account in her name to one in America to aid a renewable energy venture that requires the funds. Except it goes via her father and Gekko pockets the money to set up a hedge fund. Moore realises he’s been used and broken, he confesses to Winnie he lied to her. She ends their relationship.

The entire downfall for the couple from having the world at their feet one minute to destitution the next takes about 5 minutes, an indication of how quickly personal lives blow up when career and money takes over. If the film had one powerful moral message this was it for me – the rest – Gekko’s conscience, Moore’s maternal mortgage troubles, the banker suicide – seemed comparatively unfocused and ephemeral.

Money Never Sleeps provides a snap shot of life around the sub-prime bubble, but despite a fleeting epiphany it never quite manages to land the killer blow against an age of ponzi-scheming, herd following greed. Just as it ends with people simply moving on and forgetting past troubles, human nature dictates the most likely scenario is that it’ll just happen again.

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