Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps” played for the press Friday morning at the Cannes Film Festival. At the end of most press screenings here there are boos of one sort or another. Not this time. There was actual applause.
“Money Never Sleeps” is a slick, Hollywood hit made from a formula that—this time—works. When the formula is wrong, it’s not good. But Stone and his screenwriters and star Michael Douglas know this terrain of Gordon Gekko. They decided to keep it simple, and give the audience what they might want.
In this 23 year later sequel, Gekko has gotten out of prison in 2001 after eight years. He was in for insider trading and various other white collar crimes. He writes a best seller but has no real money. A stash of $100 million is unavailable to him, squirreled away in Switzerland under his estranged daughter’s name.
Douglas plays Gekko in 2008 like Batman or Spider Man when they pretend to have no super powers. For a while, Gekko is just Mr. Plain, giving advice to Shia LaBeouf as his daughter’s Wall Street fiancée. Carey Mulligan is the daughter. Frank Langella plays Shia’s mentor. Josh Brolin is the new Gekko, the villain who’s very much the Joker. Douglas’s hair is wild and unkempt. He wears a cheap suit and no tie. This is Gekko in exile.
I won’t say how, but Gordon eventually gets the $100 million. His superpowers are restored. He slicks back his hair, puts on Armani suit, and presto! He’s back in business. He’s Gordon Gekko as Batman, ready to take on Gotham City. It’s a great idea—financial movie as cartoon. (There’s cool animation, too, to explain the finance stuff.) And—Stone treats the whole 2008 money meltdown like a potential end of the world film. It’s like a comet is coming to destroy the Earth. But it’s just Greed, and Gekko is the only one who can stop it.
At the press conference following the screening, Stone, Douglas, Mulligan, La Beouf, Langella are lined up for questioning. Only Susan Sarandon is missing; she’s great as Shia’s Long Island realtor mom. The questions are pretty tame. No one asks Douglas the hardest question. In the new “Wall Street” scenario, Gekko’s son, Rudy, has committed suicide after a drug addiction. Gekko must talk about this with Mulligan; her character blames him for the suicide. The story of Rudy almost parallels that of Douglas’s son, Cameron, now in jail for dealing drugs. Douglas is devastating during the scene. But it’s hands off for now.
Stone reveals that he’s interviewed Fidel Castro a bunch more times, and filmed all of it. After “Wall Street 2” brings him back to the box office this fall, Stone is going to blow up his career again by returning to conspiracies and dictators. This is why he’s so likeable. He will never not be Oliver Stone.
I ask a tough question: this movie is so topical, is it a mistake to delay the release until September 23rd? Stone thinks not. Cannes will give it a big international push. The movie is really about family, and not Wall Street. Anyway, that’s the company line. Hopefully, it will wait and not get scooped by current events over the summer.
PS Lots of little things in “Wall Street 2” including massive use of CNBC, Maria Bartiromo, and even the Daily News. Stone also staged and filmed a huge black tie ball full of New York society. There are plenty of familiar faces including famed movie publicist Peggy Siegal. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter gets a cameo, with lines. Eli Wallach, 93, has a nice sized role and is cute. Sylvia Miles looks like a million bucks returning as a real estate agent. Warren Buffet even drifts in. All of this gives “WS2” so much verisimilitude that the movie bristles. Stone has got it right.