It’s 23 years since the original, and you’d think (wouldn’t you) that the contemporary climate had prompted an essential and humbled revision of the late-eighties ‘Masters Of The Universe’ brickphone schtick. Or even a decent retread with sigh-inducing didactic speeches about the error of collective ways. And there’s a bit of that, but a lot of the other.
Shia Labeouf, a halfway house between the two Hanks guises in Big, is a fledgling trader with lofty, antsy ambition, and a mentor (Frank Langella) who can see the accumulating tsunami about to roll and who therefore offers Labeouf a parting gift with which to repel the waves. Labeouf doesn’t believe the inevitable is looming. Langella, who is amidst being picked off by vultures, led by Josh Brolin, who still looks like a prettier version of Nick Nolte meets a shark, takes a dive (under a train). Labeouf recognises the situation for what it glaringly is: calamitous. He has exacting revenge on his mind. He also has a counterpoint for some painful expositional dialogue: the kind of 2D stick-on-slick cipher-trader that solicits you to swill your eyes in Optrex and stick your fingers in your ears, so glib and ghastly is he. It’s a quick rummage in stereotypical yuppie-esque behavioural tics and it’s awful.
Alongside all this imitation-of-financial-life stuff we have the re-emergence of the old entrepreneurial pin-up, Gordon Gecko, who Labeouf intercepts at a book-pushing lecture with the enticing mention of him squiring Gecko’s daughter (Carey Mulligan – a heroin-chic-looking English rose). Gecko immediately, and with shades of nudge-winking pantomime villainy, plays the strangely unsuspecting young ‘un, helping him concoct an insider-led table-turner on Brolin, and you can see where we’re headed. Gecko, installed in an apartment that suggests resuscitated splendour and abundance, is brassic and renting the place. Daughter Mulligan has a trust fund set up by the former green-machine to the tune of $100m, and you know where that’s going to end up.
Douglas is having enormous, effortless fun, as you’d expect. You wonder how much fun Carey Mulligan had, having been given the opportunity to smile at least a couple of times throughout. Labeouf is a little bit too adolescent to pull this off: during moments of what are no doubt marked up in the script as ‘raw intensity’ or whatever, he looks like a besuited boy scout galled at someone reneging on a baseball-card swap.
Oliver Stone should quit fiction. His documentaries are great, and some of the visual touchstones plumbed here are of the depths: rubbish dissolves, tired symbolism. At least he’s got David Byrne involved again.
‘He’ll hurt us. It’s what he does.’ Take heed! But no. There’d be no flimsy film were the klaxon-blare obviousness observed. And mention must go to surely the most ridiculous ending to a film in recent memory: Gecko saving the day in the most preposterously oh-shit-how-do-we-end-this-well way. Gecko appearing like some pan-Atlantic Brooks Brothers devil-out-of-nowhere to bestow stardust and sangfroid upon the fractured ‘family’ unit in a way that beggars belief. Daft.
(Addendum: a lot has been said about the failings of this film re: not dealing with the fallout of the economic meltdown. Not sure I’m too bothered, personally. As mentioned, the film might’ve been served better with such aims, but are they, as such, obligatory? I find it quite interesting that Gecko is completely unmoved by the status of the markets, and uses the scenario to his own advantage. This is, after all, a film about soulless players (which is another reason the finale here is so awfully mis-conceived) just carrying on regardless. It’s about a totally selfish mindset. I’m alright, Jack. And at the close, Gecko is more than fine, on his terms. If only the film had jettisoned its nonsensical panderings to feelgood we might’ve had a genuinely interesting (if nasty) piece of work instead of the reconciliation pap we ended up with…)