but don’t sell Gekko short
“They love that quality of take no prisoners ... if I have one more person, it’s so depressing and sad, they come up to me and say, you know, you’re the reason that I got into Wall Street ... that’s a, that’s a sad commentary.” —Michael Douglas
There is a fabulous irony to “Wall Street” that perhaps can’t be adequately explained.
The movie is an unequivocal denunciation of Wall Street excess but remains the preeminent film of those aspiring to it. They love anything Gekko, and a lot of the other scenes too.
Michael Douglas was a savvy Hollywood producer but apparently wasn’t much of a Wall Street aficionado before the film was shot. He understands that his character is not so much a stock speculator, but a nouveau riche success story. He lifts Gordon Gekko to the same level as Michael Corleone, an endlessly admirable bad guy. Douglas’ Gekko never realizes how cool and funny he is. It is too easy to forget about the Bud Fox story and simply await the next Gekko appearance. He’s right about everything, but only in the most cynical way. One wonders if “Wall Street” might have been a blockbuster in the mold of “The Godfather” had Gekko been the protagonist, seizing control of a firm and dominating the financial world in a method similar to Michael Milken. Douglas is reportedly working on a sequel featuring Gekko. But that is not this movie.
Many think of the movie merely as Gordon Gekko, greed is good. “Wall Street” is a common coming-of-age narrative, a young man discovering whether he will follow the good guys or the bad guys. What makes it unique is the setting. Oliver Stone was drawn to this concept because his father was a stockbroker, exemplified by the Hal Holbrook character, and because Wall Street, by the mid-1980s, was suddenly controversial. There were junk bond kings, leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers. People making lots of “easy” money without necessarily delivering a public benefit. This troubled Stone and evidently the “Wall Street” cast, according to interviews.
Through his own interviews, but more explicitly through certain characters and scenes, Stone expresses these opinions of Wall Street:
♦ Profit should result from making companies better and not from trading or speculation ♦ The amount of money involved invites powerful con artists to game the system ♦ There is a clear line between what is “enough” and what is “greed.”
“Wall Street” faces some issues of financial absurdity. Its worst flaw, though, is casting.
Charlie Sheen, a red-hot young actor at the time, does not have the gravitas for this role. This must be a character of testosterone, not wisecracks. Whether he did not take the role seriously enough, as has been suggested, or was simply overmatched, is debatable. Given that his career post-“Platoon” gradually tumbled into sitcoms, where he is very successful, it seems the latter is true.
Without Gekko in the scenes, it is hard to take Bud Fox seriously, including what should’ve been a very tense moment for him, near the end when he is trying with the union leaders to persuade Sir Lawrence Wildman to buy their company. Sheen delivers that scene as though he were asked to film it at 4:59 p.m. on the way to the racquetball court and was annoyed by the interruption.
Worse though are the scenes in which he is paired with his phony muse, Darien, “played” (we use that liberally here) by Daryl Hannah. Hannah, by all accounts, did not like her role to begin with, personally objected to the values depicted and mailed in her part with postage due. One would guess that, had the studio recognized the long-term appeal of the film, it would’ve allowed or forced the recasting of Darien and perhaps Bud as well. As it was, she was probably considered passable, given the shallowness of the character and the need for pure beauty.
For a protagonist, Bud’s motivation is alarmingly empty. All he wants is to have some money,...