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Dustin Putman

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Wall Street  (1987)
2 Stars
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Hal Holbrook, Sean Young, Terence Stamp, James Spader, Josh Mostel, Saul Rubinek, Frank Adonis, Sylvia Miles, Paul Guilfoyle, Annie McEnroe, Richard Dysart, Millie Perkins, Tamara Tunie.
1987 – 126 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language, sexual content and nudity, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 23, 2010.
Released in December 1987 as an indirect comment on the insider trading scandals of 1985 and '86, "Wall Street" was a minor box-office success that went on to win an Oscar for Michael Douglas' juicy performance and a Razzie for Daryl Hannah's miscast turn—the only time thus far in history that a film has earned both. Directed by Oliver Stone (who would follow it up twenty-three years later with a sequel, 2010's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"), the picture has garnered something of a following but has honestly not held up particularly well in the decades since. Very much a product of its time as it seeks to explore the excess and consumerism of a corporate 1980s lifestyle, "Wall Street" plays like a dry companion piece to 2000's "American Psycho," minus the serial killing and irony.

Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is a young, ambitious junior stockbroker in NYC struggling to make a name for himself and land a top-shelf investor. The main target he sets his sights on is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a power-hungry, nearly unreachable corporate raider. Bud finagles his way into Gordon's office with a birthday gift—high-price cigars, naturally—and, when his stock pitches go over poorly, turns to offering up inside information about Bluestar Airlines he's heard from his blue-collar father Carl (Martin Sheen), an airline maintenance foreman. Before Bud knows it, Gekko has taken him under his wing and given him a fancy apartment on the Upper East Side and a girlfriend, interior designer Darien (Daryl Hannah), in exchange for some slippery, even illegal, investigating into Gekko's competitors' next moves. Promoted at work for the huge commissions he's bringing in from Gekko, Bud strikes it rich and seems to be getting everything he dreamed. What he didn't expect was that, in the process, he'd begin to lose sight of himself and his respective values.

Some movies age better than others. "Wall Street" falls steadfastly in the "other" category. For a motion picture that, at the time of shooting, was intended to be relatively hip and cutting-edge, it is now so laughably outdated it almost feels like science-fiction. The computers are shaped like clunky boxes and what shows up on the monitor screen looks like an Atari video game. Gordon Gekko talks on something that is either a cordless phone or a rectangular detonator. Everyone smokes everywhere—in the office, in restaurants, on the subway train—and thinks nothing of it. For his new apartment, Bud receives state-of-the-art appliances such as a—gasp!—blender. Fashion-wise, an uncomfortable-looking Daryl Hannah parades around in a series of hats that get more ridiculous with each scene. When she's not wearing them, it only serves to expose her dry, frizzy, out-of-control blonde hair; she's supposed to be a sexy siren type, but instead takes on the appearance of a scarecrow that has just been electrocuted.

In regards to the story and ideas within, the film remains more current. Gordon Gekko's crooked doings, as well as his motto—"Greed is good"—made him a villain to outsiders and a hero to many professionals working on Wall Street, which may be why the country's economy is in the financial toilet today. With the exception of one use of split-screen, director Oliver Stone's filmmaking is of a more minimalist variety than usual here, and this decision doesn't help such a talk-centric narrative. With few characters to like, no action to speak of, and a foregone trajectory, the movie is monotonously static. Stone can't resist throwing subtlety out the window, either, knocking the viewer over the head with symbolism; for example, a shot of Gekko on a beach as a wave crashes down behind him all but screams that the weight of everything is crushing down on him and he's headed for a fall. Another scene where Bud walks out on the balcony of his East Side apartment and utters aloud, "Who am I?" is enough to make the viewer groan. Why not show us rather than tell us in such a painfully obvious manner that Bud is having a crisis of conscience?

Long before Charlie Sheen became a sitcom star with "Two and a Half Men," he was a fresh-faced leading man whose later career choices, drug problems, and run-ins with the law would place a road block in front of his rising film career. Sheen is strikingly youthful here, a little rough around the edges during segments of his performance but capable overall. His Bud Fox starts off meaning well enough, but his yearning for money is strong and overwrites his morality. In a failed romantic subplot, Daryl Hannah plays Darien, who falls in love with Bud but shields some of her dealings with Gekko from him. Hannah and Sheen not only have no chemistry together, they barely look like they can deal with being in the same room. Far better are the scenes between Charlie and father Martin Sheen, excellent as Bud's working-class dad Carl. When Carl has a heart attack and Bud tearfully confronts him in the hospital, one senses that there are years of genuine love and history between these two. That's because there is. Finally, the star attraction—and deservedly so—is Michael Douglas. With "Fatal Attraction" and "Wall Street," Douglas had a banner year in 1987, culminating in his Best Actor Oscar win for the latter. He blows into the movie like a hurricane—a charming one, nonetheless unapologetic in his reign of destruction—and commands the screen whenever he's on it. He has a wife (Sean Young) and toddler son, yes, but otherwise there's little depth to Gekko other than what Douglas brings by sheer force.

"Wall Street" isn't quite convincing enough to be a cautionary tale and not emotionally intimate enough to play as tragedy. A snapshot of a time that has since changed astronomically in some ways while staying alarmingly the same in others, the film, in retrospect, is just not all that interesting or well thought-out. With far bolder movies being made around the same time—the superior '80s excess bonanza "Less Than Zero" was released a month earlier in 1987 and was easily more courageous and sharply observed—this one just sort of feels rusty and uninspired as seen with 2010 eyes. Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" said the same thing better, and in only five minutes.
© 2010 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman