Oliver Stone has always been a zeitgeist kind of filmmaker. From Platoon to J.F.K. to Natural Born Killers, the Oscar-winning writer-director has instinctively known which way the wind is blowing. Stone's latest, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, returns to the world of high-stakes finance and Wall Street movers-and-shakers just two years after the worldwide financial collapse that most of us are still reeling from.
Whether it's a place that audiences are anxious to revisit remains to be seen. After all, a lot has changed in the 23 years since the first Wall Street. In 1987, Gordon Gekko (memorably played by Michael Douglas in an Oscar-winning performance) became something of a cult hero to aspiring "Masters of the Universe" who co-opted Gekko's "greed is good" mantra as their rallying cry.
The chastened Gekko of Money Never Sleeps has just been released from prison, and this time he seems more interested in reconciling with his estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan) than going mano-a-mano with Donald Trump. Now more of a cautionary figure for wannabe Wall Street players than poster boy, the older, wiser Gekko still refuses to go quietly into that good night. And why should he? He's Michael Douglas, dammit.
The guy is following in some very big shoes — namely his own. Gordon Gekko not only won Douglas his sole acting Oscar; it helped define him as an actor and became his signature role.
The fact that Douglas starred in Fatal Attraction — an even bigger zeitgeist hit, released just three months before the first Wall Street — contributed to his tsunami career effect. After that double whammy, Douglas practically cornered the market on Gekko facsimiles in movies like The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, and Disclosure.
By the mid-'90s, Douglas (and Gekko) seemed downright quaint, if not passé. After all, what avaricious fictional character could possibly compete with the even bigger appetites of our newly elected Baby Boomer president? Not surprisingly, Douglas' last major screen hit — before staging a comeback of sorts in 2000 with Steven Soderbergh's Traffic — was The American President, in which he played a Bill Clinton-style commander in chief.
A palpable nostalgia for Gordon Gekko surely helped propel Douglas' low-budget indie Solitary Man to its modest success on the art-house circuit earlier this year. Douglas played a slightly more downscale version of Gekko in Solitary Man, but the morally challenged character's modus operandi — and rakish charm — were pretty much the same.
So there very well may be an audience out there anxious to reconnect with the real deal when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens on Friday. Perhaps the once-mighty combination of Douglas and Stone can even help turn around the fortunes of 20th Century Fox. The studio that released the biggest box-office bonanza of all-time with Avatar last year has been suffering lately with one commercial miscalculation after another: Marmaduke, The A-Team, Knight and Day — take your pick.
Of course, you could go broke trying to predict the increasingly fickle tastes of moviegoers. We'll see if Stone's tea-leaf-reading skills have resurfaced just in the nick of time — or if he's crapped out with another U Turn.
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