Oh, Gordon, how we’ve missed you!
(This review is kind of out of date, but I wanted to get it up before I did my year end wrap up…)
In 1987, Gordon Gekko taught us that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Nobody remembers the whole quote. All they remember is “Greed is good.” And this sequel is kind of like that memory. It’s not as complex and engaging and filled with family drama and angst as the original. It’s a simpler tale, told well all the same.
Gekko has done his time in prison, and is now hawking his new book which (prophetically, since this takes place in 2008) anticipates the sub-prime bust that dropped us smack dab into the Great Recession. (Do you hate that term as much as I do?)
Gekko’s daughter Winnie (played by the remarkable Carey Mulligan) has tried to put her father’s troubles behind her, mostly by starting up a left-wing activist website with the terrible name “The Frozen Truth”. But she certainly hasn’t backed away from Wall Street enough to, you know, leave New York. Or not date Jake (Shia LaBeouf) who is (you guessed it) a Wall Street analyst. And just so we are reminded of the whole Enron debacle, the screenwriters made Jake an expert in energy.
The film juggles quite a few plot balls. Jake is on a quest to avenge the professional destruction of his mentor (Frank Langella) by a sort of mini-Gekko (Josh Brolin). He’s trying to wean his mother (Susan Sarandon) off of her real estate tweaking. He’s trying to marry Winnie. He’s trying to finance the next phase of human development in laser-assisted fusion. But all of these are secondary to his primary fascination: Gordon Gekko.
Ostensibly to help heal the rift between Gekko and his fiancé, Jake befriends Gordon. But it’s clear from the outset that he worships the guy. The central mystery of the film isn’t whether Jake will get the girl or destroy the bad guy or save the world. The central mystery is whether Gekko has really been rehabilitated, whether he’ll help Jake or screw him over.
This is a pretty clever construction. It gives all the heavy lifting to Shia, and leaves Michael Douglas to come in a few minutes at a time and be awesome. And awesome he is. By the climax of the film, I was really not sure which way he’d jump. Some things he said and did were just like the Gordon of old, and others were a picture of an old man trying desperately to reconnect with anything from his pre-incarceration life.
Oliver Stone has done many superior films, not to mention some real turdballs (I’m looking at you, Natural Born Killers), but this one is, I think, certainly above average.