When it comes to movies about 80s capitalist excess, and the dangers contained there-in, there are just 2 films you need to see. One is Wall Street, the other is obviously Robocop. I’ll get to the latter of those two films someday. Today though, I’ll be mostly reviewing Wall Street. Not the recent one with Shia Labouffant, the original starring Charlie Sheen as a character not called Charlie. By the way, Charlie is the name of my mate Paul and his wife Vicky’s newborn baby boy. Hopefully this Charlie doesn’t end up living a similar lifestyle to that of Charlie Sheen… aaaand we’re back to the review… nearly. Click the link!
Wall Street is a classic tale of ambition leading to corruption. Set during 1985, a year where a number of Wall Street brokers were found to have been using information to manipulate the share prices of companies in their favour. Whilst not a biopic of those events, Wall Street is very much about them. Meet Bud Fox played by Charlie Sheen. He’s a young man living in Manhattan who’s looking to get rich by working in the stock market. He idolises a man named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) who’s one of the biggest players on Wall Street. For 59 days in a row Bud Fox has called his office in an attempt to arrange a meeting. When Gekko’s birthday comes around Bud uses this as a chance to present him with a gift in person, and so begins his learning of the Gekko method of stock market buying, selling and manipulation.
The basic arc isn’t anything new. There’s plenty of tales of corruption of youth out there. Set against the background of the US stock exchange you’d think this would be a film where insider terms and numbers are thrown all over the place with little regard for the audiences grasp of the subject. The reason this film has always worked so well is because you never once feel lost in the terminology. The information is drip fed to you with some skill meaning that you can set your mind to concentrating on the character relationships and arcs.
Another reason why the film has always worked is because the setting always feels relevant. We’ve all read stories about corrupt businessmen and dodgy dealings. Stories of just how much the top 1% of the nation is willing to do to keep themselves up there. Hell, there’s people all around the US protesting this sort of business right now. The film has been accused of being anti-capitalist before now. That’s likely a side effect of having a director such as Oliver Stone helming the film. He’s never been one to avoid some form of controversy. It’s a theme that runs through many of his films after all. This film isn’t Anti-Capitalism. Anyone how claims it is is merely exposing themselves as the type of person that thinks being underhanded in business in order to stay rich is OK. The film is about the illegal dealings that Gordon Gekko brings Bud Fox into. It could have easily been about a restaurant owner bringing a young chef under his wing and encouraging him to find out what a rival chef’s secret sauce is made of in order to get a lead on him.
Stone has a shooting style that likes to take in back drops and skylines. He’s clearly a city boy. He arranges many an interior with windows displaying the vast sky scraping views of New York. At the same time the devil is in the details. Every set and location is teeming with tiny details and cluttered with objects. This is especially apparent in the offices where Bud Works. Gekko’s office and home by comparison is completely bereft of clutter. There’s no piles of papers. No unending desks filled with computer screens. Just his desk, his computer and some ghastly modern art. He and his world are both superficial and lacking in humanity. He lives for one purpose and that’s to make money. Lots of money. Gradually we see Bud start to turn into Gekko. He gets a new office that looks like a miniature version of Gekko’s and buys himself a huge apartment which he promptly fills with modern art.
Performances in this film centre almost entirely around Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. Both are putting out career best performances in this film. Douglas won an Oscar for his performance. Martin Sheen does an excellent job as Bud’s father, a role he obviously played in real life. One that he’s probably a little tired of these days. Unless he enjoys winning as much as his son does. Daryl Hannah and Sean Young do nothing other than wear expensive clothes and read the lines that were placed in front of them earlier that day. Luckily neither are in the film enough to fully distract. Although Daryl Hannah comes close and clearly had to over dub a lot of her dialogue. The rest of the cast is suitably strong though. Terrance Stamp, John C McGinley and James Spader all show up doing exactly what they always do. That is, in this relative order, chew the scenery, act like a wise ass and have depraved sexual encounters with various women. Wait, James Spader doesn’t do that? Why is he in this film then?
Wall Street is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good old fashioned morality tale, enjoys 80s synth music or better yet, really likes watching Charlie Sheen do that face he does when he’s determined. You know the one. He does it whenever he’s trying to fit Capri Anderson into a closet. yes I know her name! So what? Just watch the film so you can enjoy a tale well told against a backdrop that’s still relevant today. Whilst it has a few issues with performances from a few of the supporting cast there’s very little you can really fault the film for. It is what it is, a film about the corruptions of 80s excess and the effect a moral wrong turn can have on the life of an ambitious man named Bud Fox. Apparently he was gonna be a Jewish character originally. that would have opened a whole other kettle of fish beyond accusations of anti-capitalism.