The plot is so frantic you almost don’t notice the occasional lapse of continuity. But in the thin annals of sequels that work as good as, if not better, than the originals, this one has to rank among the limited handful of delightful successes.
Michael Douglas reprises his role as Gordon Gekko, the flashy, stylish, Wall Street moneyman who made greed socially acceptable. Having been imprisoned for insider trading, he roars back with a lean and hungry look, ready to somehow dive back into the game, and, hopefully, enjoy some retribution upon some of his fellow sharks who sold him out, then hung him out to rot in obscurity, the worst-case curse of the true financial “player.”
Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is the handsome young man with the predator look in his eyes who wants to be just like Gordon Gekko — fabulously rich, enormously successful, startlingly manipulative, and so deceitfully cunning and cold-bloodedly calculating that they don’t know what’s hit ‘em until he’s already gone. In Gekko he has the perfect mentor, that is, after a mutual rival, Bretton James (Josh Brolin) has destroyed the backing, and therefore the will, of his old mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Yes, viewers will recognize the not-that-long-ago fantastic tale of the tottering brokerage houses, and the Fed’s determination to prop up the very banks who helped create the subprime financial crisis in the first place, which raises the interesting question, no longer rhetorical, of how big a business does it need to be in America for the government to consider that bailing it out is in the national interest?
There are a couple of great secondary performances here: Eli Wallach (can he really be 95 years old?) as the clever, curmudgeonly financier; nd Susan Sarandon as the scheming mother who also wants to be a “player” in Long Island real estate. But Carey Mulligan shines again as Jake’s fiancée, and not at all coincidentally, Gordon Gekko’s lost daughter. Well, she wasn’t lost, exactly, she just wasn’t speaking to her Dad any more, not after, well, the movie will do a better job explaining all that. Just know there is a layer of personal emotionality to all these dizzying transactions with cold, hard cash. The viewer will have to decide whose tears are touchingly real and whose are crassly manipulative.
This movie crackles with witty dialogue, accomplished screenplay, suitably adept original music score, and the kind of relevance that makes us all wonder who’s minding the money management chicken coop, and which foxes are raiding the proverbial henhouse.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor, Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.