Written by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone
When I think about where I believe this country has gone wrong over the past twenty years or so, I often go back to the movie Wall Street. Too many people just heard Gordon Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” mantra and adopted it as a tagline for life, and forgot about the human cost of actions. In other words, if it didn’t affect me adversely, then it’s okay in my book. I don’t think this was what co-Writer and Director Oliver Stone was going for with the film.
Back before the advent of online brokerages, the only way for most people to invest in the stock market was through a variety of brokerage firms. The stockbrokers at those firms competed intensely to gain clients as well as steal them away from others, while at the same time doing all to keep the ones they had and keep up with the markets. It was a high-pressure job that gave back little reward unless a broker managed to hit it big with a client.
Bud Fox (portrayed by Charlie Sheen) is after Gordon Gekko (portrayed by Michael Douglas). He’s the holy grail of investors and Fox is looking to him as a savior. Through persistence, Bud manages to finally gain an audience with the iconoclast, but he isn’t making a lasting impression. As a last-ditch effort, he reaches back to a little bit of information he heard earlier in the day from his father, Carl (portrayed by Martin Sheen) to provide Gekko with a bit of insider information.
Gekko is a player. He is a machine devouring all that is in front of him and has no problem chewing up and spitting out anyone who gets in his way. Bud seems to start out in this role. Gekko knows he is getting insider information and seems to be stringing Bud along for as long as he needs him. At some point, however, it seems to take a different turn. Gekko sees something else in the eager broker who seems to be lapping up all of the lessons that he is disseminating.
However, Bud is not so sure. He came out of college all hot to reach the top and not patient enough to pay his dues to get there. However, the deeper and deeper he gets into Gekko’s world and sees the cost of what he does in human terms, the more qualms he has about the situation he is in.
Bud Fox is probably Charlie Sheen’s best performance. The eager broker who looks down on others who make “cold calls” trying to gain business and wants a fast ride to the top seems made for him. At the same time, Stone portrays him with a solid and moral family background through the interactions with his father, showing the working-class atmosphere he grew up in. It was easy to see Bud in the environment growing up, and now feeling the need to distance himself from it as an adult. Like many who grew up and then rejected the lives their parents led – good, bad, or otherwise – Bud spends time with his family and his father’s co-workers, while at the same time thinking he is somehow above it all now. The dialogue supports this, particularly when Carl questions why Bud must live in Manhattan rather than Queens.
Casting Charlie Sheen’s real-life father here was a stroke of genius. Martin Sheen really nails the paternal attitude toward his son. He doesn’t know the world Bud is traveling in but has the faith in how he raised his son to believe he is on the right path. He has no problem telling his son a secret that could end up costing all of them in the long run, simply because he can’t fathom his son selling his soul to the devil, as it were. There’s really no mother in the picture except near the end, and that helps cement the father-son bond and show the strength between the two of them, even as Bud yearns to move away from Carl’s blue-collar life.
Michael Douglas is magnificently ruthless as a financial assassin. He won the Academy Award for this role in 1988 and completely deserves it. He simply becomes Gordon Gekko. It’s not a role he brings anything to, and that’s a good thing. He just lets the character take over and run with it. At the same time, he remains a multi-dimensional character rather than being one-note. The scenes with his young son humanize him to a certain extent, although even then I got the sense he sees all of life as a competition.
Darryl Hannah is bloody awful as Darien. She is so wooden I could throw her in our wood stove and she’d ignite. During the documentary, both Stone and Sheen talk about how she struggled in the role. I completely believe it, and her character is the biggest weak point in the film. I couldn’t see the attraction with either Bud or Gordon, either, and she just showed no chemistry at all with anyone.
An entire trading floor was created for this film, as well as filming some scenes actually on Wall Street. It creates the frenzied atmosphere that used to highlight stock-market trading before it seemed that computers took over everything. The angles in scenes such as Bud’s cubicle do nicely show a cramped, squalid area with brokers one on top of the other while the sleekness of Gekko’s office along with the computer screens serve nicely to scream that he’s in an entirely different class. Stone’s attention to these details does a tremendous amount to set the tone for the film. Stewart Copeland (of The Police) did the music. That sort of detail escaped me when I viewed it over the years and was something I took the time to appreciate when viewing it on DVD.
As a side note, the scene where Fox meets his father for lunch at “The Owl Tavern” was located in Queens near JFK Airport. It was down the street from where I worked and we used to eat there quite often for lunch until it was shuttered. The food was decent and inexpensive. It also was as dimly lit as shown on Wall Street. I also love the opening with the shots of the New York skyline the way it existed at the time, with the Twin Towers and the Bell Telephone building my Dad used to work in.
It was interesting to hear in the commentary that Richard Gere was Stone’s first choice for the role of Gordon Gekko. I would say that Gere’s role in Pretty Woman was a variation on the same character, but I think Douglas in the long run did a much better job.
Oliver Stone is someone who many people dismiss, and wrongfully so in my opinion. If you want to see why he’s managed to gain the clout in Hollywood to make the films he has, simply viewing Wall Street will change anyone’s opinion of the Writer/Director. It’s nearly perfect as a testament to how the “me” generation got it all wrong.
” Commentary with Director Oliver Stone
Categories: Movie Reviews
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