If Oliver Stone's iconic 1987 film, Wall Street, is about rising to the top of the financial world, then Money Never Sleeps is the sequel that shows the flip side: what happens when all that money and power is taken away?
Gordon Gekko, the villain (or hero, depending on how you look at it) of Wall Street, is back, having just completed eight years of hard jail time and looking at a very different financial world than the one he once ruled. As the economy begins to collapse, Gekko collides with Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf), an eager Wall Street wunderkind who is engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Gekko takes notice of Jacob's naivete, and uses it to his advantage as a means to repair his relationship with Winnie and get himself back on top. To find out where the film works and where it doesn't, just
LaBeouf brings just the right amount of tenderness to his role as the impressionable yet determined-to-do-the-right-thing Jacob. He gives a performance that is both restrained and emotional in the right places, making Jacob human but not a complete pushover. The sparkle in his eye when he looks at Gordon and Winnie is offset by the crackling competitive energy he brings when facing off with his onscreen nemesis (played by Josh Brolin). Mulligan does what she can with a role that mostly requires her to be on the verge of tears at all times, but her chemistry with LaBeouf makes their scenes together a welcome reprieve in the midst of the often-leaden financial mumbo jumbo.
Upon their first meeting, a seemingly reformed Gordon tells Jacob that "Money is not the prime asset in life. Time is." Oliver Stone pushes this theme throughout the film, from the opening scene where Gordon is handed his Zach Morris-era cell phone to Jacob's aging mentor (Frank Langella) referring to himself as a dinosaur. The camera work is so in-your-face (literally) that I found myself wondering if the close-ups of Michael Douglas's wrinkles were intended to serve as superfluous evidence of how he's aged since the original film.
Stone also goes overboard trying to make sure the audience feels the urgency and rapid pace of the economic collapse. As Jacob learns that his company is going under, we see the news coming from all angles of the media as a graph showing the plummeting Dow Jones simultaneously scrolls across the screen. The aggressively edited scenes get the point across, but getting hit over the head about a crisis we've all lived through feels a bit patronizing.
In the midst of the dizzying cinematography and metaphors, Money Never Sleeps finds its center in the same place that Wall Street does: the question of whether or not greed is good. Predictably, we find the same answer the second time around, but there's a lot more sentimentality along the way. The bright side is that LaBeouf and Mulligan are so sweet that it helps forgive a wishy-washy plot that requires a bailout of its own.