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
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.
Action / Crime / Drama
Action / Crime / Drama
New York City, 1985. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is an ambitious, young junior stockbroker at Jackson Steinem & Co. a local Wall Street stock and trading firm, desperate to get to the top. He wants to become involved with his hero, the corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a ruthless and legendary Wall Street player.After work, Fox's meets with his father Carl (Martin Sheen), at a bar in nearby Queens for drinks. Carl Fox is a blue-collar maintenance foreman for a small and struggling airline company called Bluestar Airlines. In a casual conversation, Carl tells Bud that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has cleared Bluestar of responsibility for a major incident in which it was involved.Some days later, Bud Fox visits Gordon Gekko on his birthday and, granted a brief interview, pitches him stocks of a few promising companies, but Gekko is unimpressed. Realizing that Gekko may not do business with him, a desperate Fox provides him with the information about Bluestar which the FAA has yet to make public. Gekko tells him he will think about it. A dejected Fox returns to his office where Gekko places an order for Bluestar stock, becoming one of Fox's clients.Over the next few weeks, Fox makes more stock deals with Gekko which fall through, but the corporate raider has taken a liking for the young man and takes him under his wing. However, Gekko makes it clear that he does not want just a few tips on the stock market: he wants inside information of the sort that should be confidential, obtained by any means necessary, even if it involves using unethical and illegal methods. Desperate to advance in life, Fox agrees.One of his first assignments is to spy on British corporate raider Sir Lawrence Wildman (Terence Stamp) and discern his next move. By following Wildman through New York, Fox discovers that he is out to take control of a major steel company, Anacott, in Pennsylvania and informs Gekko who leaks the news to the press and then and buys the controlling shares.On that weekend, Gekko invites Fox to his house on the Hamptons in Long Island where Fox gets a look at the corporate raider's family life and gets to meet his wife Kate (Sean Young), the mother of Gekko's two-year-old son Rudy and infant daughter. Fox also has a run-in with an attractive blond lady who introduces herself as Darien (Daryl Hannah). Over drinks, Darien tells Fox that she works as an interior decorator in New York and she knows Gekko because he is a frequent client of hers and has done work on his house and city apartment. Fox asks Darien out on a date for later, and she agrees to one. A little later, Wildman arrives uninvited and confronts Gekko about the takeover of the steel company. Wildman claims that he is not out to "asset strip" the steel company but to improve its infrastructure and make something of it. After trading some personal insults, the two men agree to a deal where Gekko will sell it back to Wildman for a large cost.Over the next year, Fox's star is on the rise. He makes good money and enjoys Gekko's perks, including purchasing a penthouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side and Darien becomes his trophy live-in mistress. However, it is hinted that Darien is a former lover of Gekko's. Still employed by Jackson Steinem, Fox is promoted as a result of the large commission fees he is bringing in from Gekko's trading and is given a corner office with a view. He continues to maximize insider information, going so far as disguising himself as a cleaning company supervisor and breaking into the offices of lawyers and businesses after hours in order to obtain necessary data.Fox believes that the Bluestar Airlines can be improved and made a commercial success. He persuades Gekko to buy Bluestar and expand it using savings achieved by union concessions. The union leaders, including Fox's father Carl, are invited to Fox's apartment in order to discuss the proposal. Only Carl Fox proves to be hostile to the idea since he does not trust Gekko and feels that Gekko only wants to buy up and then liquidate the airline, but, after a row with his son, he agrees to put it to his men.Things seem to be going well, but then Fox learns at a shareholders meeting that Gekko has indeed double-crossed him and in fact intends to sell off all of Bluestar's assets leaving Carl and the entire Bluestar staff unemployed once the stock peaks at it's price. Fox himself stands to make a fortune on such a move but is racked with guilt since it was never his intention to break up Bluestar, especially since many of the staff happen to be friends whom he has known for a long time and friends of his father's. Just then, Fox learns that his father has been admitted to the hospital from a heart attack. At his father's bedside, Fox apologizes to his father for doubting him.From this point onward, Fox resolves to destroy Gekko's plans to take over Bluestar. Darien tries to talk him out of it, pointing out the money that they are going to earn and the danger of making an enemy out of Gekko. Fox refuses to listen to her arguments and they break up, leading her to walk out on him for good.A few days later, Fox and the union leaders privately meet Gekko's rival, Sir Laurence Wildman, who agrees to take over ownership of Bluestar, and, in return for union concessions, save it from being stripped. The next day, Fox then gets his colleagues at Jackson Steinem to persuade their clients to invest in Bluestar. Using Gekko's own methods, he leaks the news of Gekko's takeover of Bluestar which sends the share price up. The union leaders then confront Gekko, warning him that they know of his plans to liquidate the company (which of course he calmly denies) and threatening to make life so difficult for the customers that by the time the company is broken up it will be next to worthless.Gekko decides to cut his loses and pull out of Bluestar - "What the hell. So we only make 10 million instead of 20 million." - but Fox then gets his contacts to dump their Bluestar stocks... which sends the share price down! Gekko is unable to find buyers for his own stock, "I am losing millions!", and is forced to sell at a loss. Once the share price has gone down as far as it can, Wildman buys it up, taking over Bluestar. Gekko is furious and knows who to blame.The next day, a triumphant Fox arrives at work at Jackson Steinem & Co. where he is confronted by the police and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Apparently Gekko tipped them off about Fox's insider dealings which they themselves have been investigating for some time. Fox is arrested, handcuffed and led out of the office in tears.Some time later, Fox confronts Gekko in rainy Central Park. Gekko berates him for his betrayal. He then viciously assaults Fox, but not before mentioning several of their illegal business transactions. Unknown to Gekko, Fox was wearing a wire which he then turns over to the federal authorities.A few days later, Carl Fox drives his son to the New York City courthouse where he will face the consequences for his insider trading and securities fraud charges. After having a few words with his father, Fox exits the car and walks up the steps to the courthouse alone as the image pans back to the skyline view of New York. It is strongly implied that Bud Fox will go to jail for his greed, but his co-operation to implicate Gekko with him in their insider trading schemes could mean a lesser sentence and Wildman has offered him a job at Bluestar upon his release... whenever that will be.
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