Sunday, 4 October 2020

Wall Street by Weiser & Stone

Continuing my deep dive into the films of Oliver Stone, this week I'm looking at Wall Street.

The first surprise for me about this movie was that it was Stone's very next film after Platoon. It's such radically different source material that I thought it must have been made years later.

But to Stone, the son of a stockbroker, this story was close to his heart. "It was really an exploration of my father's world, which I found fascinating."*

It's a world in which the fabulously named Gordon Gekko rules. Played by Michael Douglas, Gekko is a ruthless, shady and highly successful entrepreneur.

The movie is now a classic, remembered for the Gekko quote, "Greed is good." (Although like "Play it again Sam" in Casablanca, that exact phrase never actually occurs in the film.)

Gekko becomes a kind of dark-side mentor to the ambitious young Bud Fox. 

Fox is played by Charlie Sheen and, as with Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, Oliver Stone gets a surprisingly effective performance out of his young leading man.

Having been at the centre of Stone's first two films, it looked as if Charlie Sheen might turn into a long term collaborator with the director, but Wall Street was effectively the end of their partnership.

Stone now speaks about him with some disillusion: "he wasn't looking to change the world... he really loved money...  and being in the Wall Street world certainly sharpened his appetites."

He also compares Charlie unfavourably with his father, the distinguished actor Martin Sheen. "I can't say Charlie... would make his dad proud... definitely more interested in money."

But maybe all this made Charlie Sheen perfect for the part of a young man who is seduced and corrupted by money and who lacks the integrity of his father and betrays his values.

Ironically, Bud Fox's father is played in the movie by Martin Sheen himself.

Co-written by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser, Wall Street stands up well. Some of the fashions have dated, of course...

And the allegedly cutting edge interior design of Bud Fox's luxury apartment, chosen by his luxury girlfriend Darien Taylor (Daryl Hannah), looks utterly ludicrous.

But then I remember thinking that it looked utterly ludicrous when I first saw the film in the cinema back in 1987.

Stone has described the movie as Pilgrim's Progress on Wall Street and it's a neat, tight story. Bud Fox desperately wants to win Gekko's approval and a place on his team.

So he gives Gekko inside information about the regional airline where Bud's dad is a blue collar worker.

The ploy works only too well, with Gekko buying the airline with a plan to gut it, sell off its assets and drain its pension fund (sound familiar?)...

Bud Fox finds that he has effectively destroyed his own father, and he belatedly realises Gekko is the enemy and takes action against him.

In a way, it's a retelling of the story of Platoon, with a young man caught between two father figures, both appealing, one good and one evil.

At the time of its release Wall Street was badly received critically and only received one Oscar nomination — a winning one for Michael Douglas ("in the part, in the movie, he surprised people," says Stone).

But as I say, the film stands up well and I liked it when I watched it again.

And I'd forgotten that Bud Fox doesn't get off scot-free, either.

He is crying like a baby as he is led out in handcuffs at the end.

Very gratifying.

Incidentally, this is not to be found anywhere in the movie, but I thought you might be interested in where Wall Street, one of the oldest thoroughfares in New York, got its name.

The wall in question was that of the stockade where they kept the slaves.

(*All the quotes by Stone are from the superb book which set me off on this retrospective.)

 (Image credits: Thank you, IMDB.)

1 comment:

  1. I rewatched it a few years ago and declared it: One of the great American films of the last few decades.
    Good review, by the way.