A young and impatient stockbroker is willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal inside information taken through a ruthless and greedy corporate raider who takes the youth under his wing.
On the Wall Street of the 1980s, Bud Fox is a stockbroker full of ambition, doing whatever he can to make his way to the top. Admiring the power of the unsparing corporate raider Gordon Gekko, Fox entices Gekko into mentoring him by providing insider trading. As Fox becomes embroiled in greed and underhanded schemes, his decisions eventually threaten the livelihood of his scrupulous father. Faced with this dilemma, Fox questions his loyalties.Written by
With his diabolical charm, slicked-back hair, city-college chip on his shoulder, and era-defining "greed-is-good" mantra, Gordon Gekko may by one of the all-time great film roles. Michael Douglas's performance as Gekko won a deserved Oscar in 1988 and makes "Wall Street" required viewing.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to money. Some economists argue money is an expanding resource, and prosperity a rising tide that lifts all boats. For Gekko, the truth is simpler and more brutal: The rich get richer off the backs of everyone else. "Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred," he tells his young protégé Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen).
No question writer-director Oliver Stone feels the same way, as he presents this tale of wealth acquisition at its very apex, lower Manhattan circa 1985. In practically every frame showcasing the opulent world Gekko travels can be glimpsed beggars, fishermen, window washers, people who never will have access to the white-collar lifestyles their lowly status perversely enables for others.
For some, this zero-sum take of America clouds their enjoyment of "Wall Street" the movie. It shouldn't. You don't have to buy Shakespeare's version of history in "Richard III" to enjoy the morally bankrupt character at its center, and you don't need to adopt Stone's philosophy to enjoy Gekko.
In fact Stone's attitude about the Street, presented here as a kind of Hogarth caricature, helps make the film so entertaining. He captures the scenes of floor trading and calls and puts in journalistic detail, but leaves room for the human equation. And he has fun, a lot of fun, especially with Gekko, a character who makes you laugh with his pithy comments even as he sets about using poor Fox as a human ashtray.
On an upcoming charity event for the Bronx Zoo: "That's the thing about WASPs. They hate people, but they love animals." On a rival: "If he was in the funeral business, no one would ever die!" To Fox: "You had what it took to get into my office, sport, the question is do you have what it takes to stay."
Fox wants to stay, and allows no SEC regulation to block his wayward path. Stone's father was a stockbroker, and so the director takes special care to show us that all Wall Streeters aren't bad. There's Hal Holbrook, almost too saintly and somewhat detached from day-to-day business of his brokerage house to the point he seems a slumming B-school don. John C. McGinley delivers a standout performance as a vulgar, greedy friend of Fox's who we nevertheless find ourselves sympathetic to, especially as Fox ditches him for Gekko.
But of course it's really Gekko's world, as we watch him at his desk, punching telephone-line buttons and encouraging subordinates to "rip their throats out," checking his blood pressure with one hand while smoking a cigarette in the other. His centerpiece moment, his speech to the stockholders at Teldar Paper, is a compelling soliloquy not because it showcases his brutality but because it allows him a chance to explain his philosophy in a way that sounds logical, even honorable, until you think through the implications. That's Stone's screen writing at its best.
Sheen is also masterful in his role, playing the naive waif who wants to swim with the sharks and thus giving Douglas daylight to run. Too bad there's a tacked-on romance that never really works, in part because the character of Darien Taylor is not well developed, in part because Darryl Hannah hadn't yet met Quentin Tarantino. The ending is a bit too neat, and loses the subtlety that makes the rest of the film so good.
But the heck with subtlety when you have Gordon Gekko. Douglas is the reason for watching "Wall Street," and a terrific one. Just watch the way he looks at Bud, eyebrows raised to hold a pregnant silence, or enjoys the discomfort of his arbitrager-rival Sir Larry (a solid Terence Stamp). Stone knew what he had here, and makes the most of it. As a twisted morality tale, "Wall Street" is a thrilling, scenic ride down a dark and dangerous road.
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