Wall Street (1987) Directed by Oliver Stone. With Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, and Martin Sheen.
In 1987 greed was very good for Michael Douglas. As a matter of fact, so good, that it won him the prize of ‘Best Actor’ at the Oscars. Of course, I’m referring to the infamous Gordon Gekko “Greed is good” speech which captured the mood of a time and a place and the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
After success with both Salvador and Platoon the year earlier, Oliver Stone was beginning to carve out a career as director unafraid to take sides. His trip down Wall Street would be no different. As you might expect, he isn’t out to win any new friends in New York City’s famous financial district. In essence, his Wall Street is about cheating the American Dream. It depicts unscrupulous men, working hard to for their own personal gain, no matter what the cost to society. It’s about breaking up families and honest, hard-working American lives for the sake of a quick buck. There’s plenty to ‘boo-hiss’, and I’m not just talking about Daryl Hannah’s vacant performance.
The warring father-son subtext of the piece is given extra validity by Martin and Charlie Sheen playing those respective roles on screen. While Douglas’ performance is admittedly the biggest in the film, Martin Sheen is equally excellent, with a less showy turn that adds a degree of real-world heft to things. Charlie Sheen’s ‘Bud Fox’, (he sounds like a US news anchor) is also very good as the son caught between two fathers – his blood father in Sheen and his career father in Douglas, two men with very different ideas about what success in life means.
As well as the impressive central performances, Oliver Stone and cinematographer, Robert Richardson, capture the chaotic, feeding-frenzy pace of a Wall Street working day. Disorientating camera work prowls around the market floor like a predator, dipping in-and-out of snippets of intense conversation between frantic salesmen.
What’s incidentally amusing about this vision of 1980’s excess, all these years on, is the insistence on showcasing the wonders of the technology of the period. Not only does Michael Douglas’ home have a robot butler to greet his guests, he also shows off a clunky looking handheld, portable TV in a restaurant and waxes lyrical on the beach with a cellphone that would give Dom Joly a case of phone envy. These things add a layer of quaint charm to the mix.
The final scene might feel a little too much like a “and the moral of the story is…” moment, but most of what comes before it is engaging, and in truth, Stone does have a point about the insanity of the financial world. Worth your time investment. 4/5