Saturday, March 31, 2012

100 Movies - No. 92: Wall Street

92. Wall Street (1987)
Crime, Drama, 126 minutes
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen

It must be interesting to work in the financial world, but it's certainly not a topic that attracts the attention of most moviegoers. Whenever we see stockbrokers depicted on the screen, it appears to be utter chaos. Screens show numbers, people shout and make frantic phone calls, and we discern from their reactions whether they made money or not.

Wall Street overcomes some of the limitations of the subject matter by giving us well-acted characters that we care about. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) begins the story as a struggling broker who hopes to one day make a phone call that will change his life. Most of his potential clients aren't in a position to do that, but one is.

Gordon Gekko (Douglas) doesn't waste a second of his time when he's working, and he's usually working. After calling for 59 days straight, Bud delivers a box of Cuban cigars on Gekko's birthday and is given five minutes to convince him that he can help the man make money. He doesn't really hold Gekko's attention, but uses a desperate ploy before he is thrown out. Bud's father, Carl (Martin Sheen), works for Bluestar Airlines and has given Bud information about the company which will result in the price of the stock rising. Gekko decides to take a chance and Bud is hired.

It soon becomes clear to Gekko that Bud had inside information. He tells him that he doesn't like to lose and he'll need similar information in the future if he's to keep him around. Bud has a decision to make. Does he try to work ethically and within the law, or take a chance and do what Gekko asks? This is a story of greed and corruption and we see Bud take the latter option. He follows around another investor in an attempt to find out what company the man might be trying to buy. The information is useful to Gekko and he makes a fortune.

Bud's life will never be the same. He's finally on a path that will result in him becoming a major player. He begins spending money on a new apartment and artwork which reflects his success. He also starts a relationship with a woman who would normally have been beyond his reach. We see what money and success can do to a person. Previous relationships are harmed or completely abandoned. His father is an ethical man and is particularly hurt by Bud's actions. Despite warnings from some of his colleagues, Bud ruthlessly pursues success.

Will Bud achieve his dream and stay one step ahead of the law? Can he continue to provide Gekko with enough relevant information? Will he prove his father and work colleagues wrong?

Charlie Sheen is convincing as Bud, but the real highlight of the film is the Oscar-winning performance from Michael Douglas. He exudes power and gives the impression that he doesn't tolerate failure in any form. He's a brilliant public speaker and easily wins the support of companies he's taking over, even if he means to destroy them.

It's very strange seeing images of the twin towers in older films and it's a little sobering to see them here. There are a few other things which date the film and the funniest change has to be the differences in technology. Take a look at the computer screens without laughing or at cell phones the size of a brick.

I always take note when a film holds my interest with subject matter that I usually find boring. Wall Street is one such film and it's a gripping drama.

If you like Wall Street:

Michael Douglas played Gordon Gekko in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. It was given a mixed reception, but I enjoyed it. If you like the character, it's worth seeing what happens to him.

If you're a fan of Michael Douglas, take a look at Falling Down.

I'm also reminded of Glengarry Glen Ross. Although it doesn't take place on Wall Street, the desperation of the salesmen is similar. It's easily the best movie I have seen about the sales industry. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin were all involved.

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  1. Great review Steve!

    I really enjoyed reading it and it's easy to see that your passion for the film come through in your writing.

    I am a big fan of 'Wall Street' because it is multi-layered story that gives you something new every time you watch it.

    It is a film about the 1980's stock market, the excesses of the time, the story of corruption, a young man pursuing power and success at the expense of everything else, it showcases both a strong and naive Charlie Sheen and above all else, Michael Douglas owns every single scene that he is in. It's no wonder that this role became his career-defining Oscar winning role.

    I really enjoyed the review, I might have to go back and revisit the film again.

  2. Thanks Russell,

    I'm glad my passion came through. I sometimes wonder if I am too technical and serious.

    It's fun seeing Wall Street 2 as well if you decided not to based on poor reviews. Douglas is pretty funny as Gekko.