Friday, September 24, 2010

Money Never Sleeps

I have to hand it to Oliver Stone. Not for a job well done on his first shot at a sequel to one of his movies, but on being a great Director falling short in that effort. The reason I have to hand it to him, is that at least he tried. It would seem that Oliver Stone does not love sequels, but the rampant speculation and "leverage" during the early part of the new century, crystalizing into the financial meltdown (and near worldwide economic collapse) in 2008, he felt compelled to make another movie based upon the famous Gecko mantra that "greed is good".
The fact that the second movie fell short does not matter as much to me as the heavy-handed story line. We're presently with character after character that are simply not real people. And they're not real people in the sense that no one actually acts like the people they are trying to represent, not in the typical movie way in which the characters are overblown representations of reality. Except for maybe a few people, the guys on top at the companies involved in the financial meltdown were nerds. These are guys that went through business school hoping to get ahead, and when they happened to see their shot they took it. Smart guys all, but not smart enough to see the *collapse* at the end of the tunnel.
Frank Langella's thinly veiled portrayal of a partner at Lehman or Bear Stears (more closely Lehman) was not terrible, but his insistence on portraying the character as contemplative when these guys seemed anything but, was a bit too cinematic. The guys in the middle of the financial storm that was taking place, were trying desperately to figure out a way to both save their companies, but more importantly, to save themselves. It was every man for himself at that point, and lifeboats were in very short order (although I must say that most of these guys turned out alright, they just moved from investment banking into hedge funds, and steared clear of the regulations).
Brolin's character lacked any depth whatsoever. I guess I might be a little bias since I'm not a big fan of Josh Brolin (although to be fair, his character in "No Country for Old Men" was very good and convincing. I felt as though the pompous character was all lines, all ambition, but no reality. He was so quick to quiver in the face of adversity. And it's not that there aren't characters like that in other movies (a la Bud Fox from the prequel), but he wasn't portrayed in that way all along, and therefore it did not fit in as being a character trait of his. Brolin's portrayal of a one-dimensional character (written that way), showed a lack of creativity (much as he did with George W. Bush in "W") and ended up making his character have little to no effect on the movie. It's not that his character wasn't involved in the movie, but I didn't care if he continued making money, went to jail, or jumped out of the office window.
Shia LeBeouf, even as the main character, had almost no effect on the movie as a whole. He seemed to be the crux of all of the drama in the story, but participated in almost none of it. Shia has shown one again what an overly ambitious, over acting young person can do to a role. He makes it invisible. His emotions seemed to be acted, his well delivered lines seemed to be done too well, and his demeanor seemed to never change. His character was supposed to care a lot about money, then seemed to care about feelings, then seemed to care about changing the world, then seemed to... There was no focus whatsoever, and the bottom line was that at the end - especially in the final scene - we had no clue who the character was, or any reason for believing that he had ever been what he had purported to be, or if he was, if he would ever change.
Carrie Mulligan did a fine job, although her performance was rather staid. She played the same character through the whole movie, we knew who she was, how she felt, and what she wanted, we just weren't being pulled along that well by her to care.
By far the best acting done in this movie was by the man who made the first movie good. Michael Douglas, like Gordon Gekko himself, may be a bit washed up as an actor, but he still shows that the chops are still there. The idea of having Douglas play Gekko as an older man, who is wise to his once terrible ways, but has little self-control to stop himself from continuing them, is very complex, and makes his character not only believable, but almost salvages the whole movie. While other characters may have more prominent roles, the story belongs to Gordon Gekko. The story is about his personal redemption; not redemption in the sense that he's being forgiven for his past wrongs, but redemption in the fact that he can learn to know himself well enough to understand that he will never be anything but what he always was. When he comes out of prison, Gekko seems to be the propagator of sour grapes about the financial system, and is seen as a sort of nostradamus about the impending collapse. But what we come to recognize is that while Gekko does see the approaching doom, he simply can't help himself when the opportunity arises to not only get even, but get rich; and more importantly, involved. A poignant scene, is one in which Gekko is seeing his daughter for the first time in years, they are sitting in a restaurant, and he asks her a question. In the middle of her response, he interrupts her to say hello to a well-known business leader who has no clue who Gekko is. He wants the clout, he wants the contacts, he wants the notoriety. He loves the game, and we see in the end, that is all he loves, and all he has left.
Overall, the theme of the movie came through, but the characters and the plot were not what did it. In the end it was Gekko.
As a side note, the ending was an abomination, and you could do yourself a favor to skip the last 10 minutes of the movie.

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