When I first moved to New York after college I spent a lot of time temping, and I temped pretty regularly for financial institutions. Once I spent three weeks working on this trading floor in a skyscraper near Central Park, which is not where trading floors are supposed to be, so maybe it wasn’t a very good trading floor. In any case, my job was to answer phones for these four dudes. Let’s call them, John, Tony, Dan, and Jon. When a call came in for any of them, I was supposed to stand up and shout their name. CAN YOU IMAGINE? WHAT A LIVING NIGHTMARE! Here I am, 22 years old, dressed like an asshole in my Banana Republic sale rack business casual clothing, standing up in an unfamiliar office and shouting people’s names. At first, I did not shout their names. I put the call on hold and walked over and said “Tony, you have a call on line 4.” They were like “Don’t come over here, bro, just shout my name out, bro.” Good grief. There was this guy who sat next to me who was very disdainful of me because he was a real employee and I was a fake employee, except that he did the exact same work as me, with the phone answering and the name shouting (although he WAS in charge of calling in everyone’s lunch order, so that was pretty important), and he was in his late 30s, and he spent his downtime talking loudly on the phone to his friends about his efforts to find cheap tickets to Broadway musicals on-line, so I was not impressed with his superiority. Also: there was a sign in the Mens’ Room–a Mens’ Room I will remind you that was used by financial traders earning, presumably, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–that asked people to PLEASE FLUSH. The sign was really desperate and pleading. Clearly there was some kind of problem with flushing going on. At the end of three weeks, not a single person had bothered to ask much less learn my name. The point is: no offense to financial traders, but financial traders are fucking assholes.
Which brings us, finally, to Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. What was THAT all about? (Besides assholes.)
The first Wall Street movie (1987) was really good. It dramatized the deregulation nightmare of the 1980s and the culture’s obsession with ostentatious financial wealth. It also depicted something that was relatively new. The rise of the Financial Trader as American Archetype and Portrait of Success didn’t exist prior to the 80s. So, it was timely. Wall Street 2 also tries to be timely. It opens with Gordon Gecko getting out of jail in October of 2001. 2001! October! 9/11! Wall Street! Prison! Mobile Phone Technologies! It’s confusing, actually. Because Shia LaBeouf is giving some bullshit voiceover about how mankind is the biggest bubble of all (relax, Agent Smith) but his character in 2001 would have been, what? 16? It’s also disorienting to spend five minutes in 2001 and then immediately fast-forward seven years. (Lindsay Robertson points out that this also makes it very weird when we catch up with him seven years later that he hasn’t seen a single person he knew since he was released from prison.) On top of that, the fact that Gordon Gecko seems so confused that no one is waiting for him when he gets out of jail (and accidentally thinks a limousine is for him, when in fact the limousine is for a black man, if you can even believe it, HOW MUCH THE WORLD HAS CHANGED!) seems odd. Don’t you think if you were a former billionaire getting out of prison that you would at least know one way or the other whether someone was coming to pick you up in a limousine? Don’t you think you’d have that information? And thus begins this sloppy movie’s stumbling walk down Whoops Lane.
Anyway, so, Shia LaBeouf is a hot young trader who just happens to be dating Gordon Gecko’s “liberal blogger” daughter, Carey Mulligan. Sure. The origins of their relationship are never explained, and it’s not even clear why they like each other other than that it IS nice to have someone to hug and take to work parties. When Shia LaBeouf’s childhood financial trading mentor is driven to bankruptcy and suicide, he decides to get revenge on Josh Brolin. Meanwhile, he makes friends with Gordon Gecko (after Gordon Gecko gives a painfully boring lecture in REAL TIME) even though his fiance hates her father and doesn’t want anything to do with him, to the point where he has to lie to her about meeting him. Blah blah blah. Boring/complicated scheming. A hilarious motorcycle race. Shia gets his revenge, kind of, but he is also double-reverse-betrayed by Gordon Gecko, who robs his own daughter of 100 million dollars that she didn’t even want and moves to London. GOTCHA! Shia and Carey break up even though she is pregnant. He sells his loft! Josh Brolin does go to jail eventually because A BLOG POST GOES VIRAL. And then eventually Gordon Gecko fixes everything by donating 100 million dollars to an energy company in California that Shia LaBeouf has some kind of weird crush on.
There are a lot of dumb things that make no sense in this movie. Like, well, all of it. I guess I don’t know that much about being a Wall Street trader, but I always thought that being a Wall Street trader was about monitoring the markets and making complicated financial transactions for profit. But somehow every trade that Shia LaBeouf makes just centers around getting his boyfriend, the whiny crybaby Fusion Scientist, a check for 100 million dollars. He really wants him to get that money, and apparently his job is just to try and get him that money? What does he even DO? I’m still not sure. I am glad, though, that the movie included BOTH a scene in which someone walks into an apartment looking for someone only to discover that the apartment has been cleaned out as if the person never even existed, and also a scene in which someone is waiting in someone else’s office in the dark and turns on the light. YOU PROBABLY DID NOT THINK THEY WERE GOING TO BE THERE, BUT THEN THEY WERE THERE. The only cliche it was missing was an “enhance” scene.
But the real problem with this movie is who cares about a bunch of incredibly wealthy assholes? Let me give you an example: the movie begins with and much of its motivation centers around the death of Louis Zabel (a Lehman Brothers effigy) whose company is destroyed, and who throws himself in front of a train. Shia is brought to tears and spends the rest of the movie attempting to get vengeance. Except, let’s not forget that Louis Zabel was the head of a financial trading company. HE WAS AN ASSHOLE! I’m not saying he wasn’t being nice to Shia LaBeouf when he gave him a 1.5 million dollar bonus check, but it’s literally impossible to become the head of a financial trading company without spending your entire life subsisting on a diet of the blood of the weak. Boo Hoo! It is so sad how that billionaire who spent his entire career stabbing people in the back and stealing more than his fair share of the world’s wealth through sneaky manipulation and bullying got sad and died! Whatever. Fucking WHATEVER.
And the movie’s conclusion is more of the same. We’re supposed to somehow be won over by the fact that Gordon Gecko donates 100 million dollars to an energy company? I’M NOT EVEN SURE WHAT THIS MOVIE IS TALKING ABOUT AT THIS POINT! For one thing, there is no way in which a 100 million dollar donation to an energy company would ever pull on my heartstrings, but even more important, even if I were to consider this turn of events through the warped lens of this stupid (and long!) movie, we already know that Gordon Gecko has turned his 100 million dollar theft into more than a billion dollars. So the stakes for him are basically zero. Donating 100 million dollars (out of a billion dollars) to Shia LaBeouf’s pet company, which has somehow now taken on some kind of bizarre, fucked up substitution for his actual relationship with the mother of his child, is literally the least he can do. But somehow this brings Shia and Carey back together? THEN WHY DID YOU BREAK UP?! WHERE ARE THE HUMAN BEINGS AND WHEN DID THE ROBOT CLOWNS TAKE OVER? If the primary conflict to resolve at the end of a movie that supposedly tracks one of the most damaging and far-reaching financial collapses in the history of the modern world is whether or not two 20-something millionaires (Shia’s loft was only worth 4.5 MILLION DOLLARS, is this movie a TRAGEDY?), then there are literally no stakes and we can all go home and read a magazine. At least in the original, Charlie Sheen had the decency to lose everything.
Hopefully this blog post goes viral and puts Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps in jail.