Movie Review: Wall Street

May 09, 2008

The first time I watched Wall Street was when it was released in India. It bored me to death. Back then, my diet was crawling with action and horror flicks and plot-and-dialogue-heavy movies bored me. And now I'm in a frenzy of unearthing, watching and reviewing these selfsame movies.

Wall Street is simply a glossy, modern-day version of Crime and Punishment narrated rather well with the typical 1980s' Hollywood ingredients of high-tech gadgetry, skyscraper-culture, and some sleaze for good measure.

While it doesn't exactly qualify for a classic, it is a superlatively-told story worth watching a few times. High points of the movie include great performances by the protagonists, no-holds barred dialogue, and brilliant screenplay. The last attribute scores real well because it is difficult to sit through a dialogue-heavy film for over 2 hours unless the screenplay rivets you to your seat.

Wall Street is the familiar story of the seductive power of greed, and how its accompanying consequences play out in the minds and lives of different people. Set in the mid-1980s, Wall Street is about Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), an unscrupulous corporate raider who manipulates stock holdings of entire corporations using every proverbial dirty trick in the book, and Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a struggling two-pence stock salesman in a stockbroking firm. Gordon Gekko has everything that Bud Fox wants, and idol-worships him for that reason. Gekko takes him under his tutelage, and introduces him to his world. At some point, when Gekko feels that he has sufficiently peeled off Fox's conscience, he entrusts him with greater "responsibilities." To his credit, Fox, fuelled by his rapid successes, takes greater, and thus riskier initiatives. As is wont, his unethical journey brings him to his own, very ethical father's company. Gekko backstabs Fox. The rest is about retribution, soul-searching and salvation.

Oliver Stone is both a skillful storyteller and a great extractor of performances. Charlie Sheen takes us along all the way till the end starting with his almost-naive ambition to tearful guilt. But Wall Street is Michael Douglas all the way, which deservedly won him the Oscar. Oliver Stone gives his character a sense of completeness, which is missing in Sheen's characterization. The Gekko in Gordon Gekko seems to have a parallel in the Gecko lizard, which emits foul-smelllng material and feces to ward off its enemies. Gordon Gekko's "business" premise is slime. He hits hard, ducks, manipulates, and breaks every rule of decency to get what he wants and to stay there. He involves Bud Fox in every dirty deal but ensures that his own back is protected if trouble erupts. With this kind of absolute author-backed characterization, Michael Douglas has won you completely, much before he begins his celebrated Greed, for want of a better word, is good speech. Oliver Stone manages to retain the latent violence in Gekko's character till the close of the movie when he decides to unleash it. Gekko punches Bud Fox with a ferocity that only matches the inherent evil in his character.

Because there's no such thing as a perfect film, I guess we need to mention the most obvious shortcomings. Like most well-made movies, Wall Street seems to be in a hurry to finish. Bud Fox's decision to punish Gordon Gekko for ruining his father's company is contrived. The sequence and pace of his actions just don't make sense because till then you are given to believe that Gekko is this all-knowing monster. How Bud's artificial engineering of the stock market escapes Gekko's attention is puzzling. The biggest let-down is Daryl Hannah. From seducing the naive Bud Fox to graduating to his almost-love interest, her character has zero relevance to the movie. Wall Street wouldn't exactly suffer a loss if her character wasn't created at all. Also, Wall Street could have done without getting too preachy: whether its Michael Douglas preaching about the goodness of greed or Sheen's father sermonizing about the virtues of ethical living.

Wall Street wins not only for its superior storytelling or the other aspects I've mentioned but also because it portrays conflict so well.

Sandeep works as a writer in an IT Services company based in Bangalore. Blogging is his latest and severely active hobby.
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