Wall Street: 20th Anniversary Edition
September 14, 2007
When Oliver Stone made Wall Street (1987), he was riding high from the commercial and critical success of Platoon (1986). His father, Lou Stone, had been a stockbroker on Wall Street in New York City and this film was a son’s way of paying tribute to his father. Almost twenty years later, it has become one of the quintessential snapshots of the financial scene in the United States and epitomizes the essence of capitalism, greed and materialism that was so prevalent in the 1980s.
Right from the opening frame, Stone establishes the dominant presence of greed and money by using a gold filter over shots of the New York City skyline with Frank Sinatra (known by his cronies as Chairman of the Board no less) singing “Fly Me to the Moon” foreshadowing the dizzying heights that the film’s protagonist, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) will briefly ascend. He is an up-and-coming stockbroker in the cutthroat financial world. He is hungry and willing to do anything to get rich. He idolizes Gordon Gekko (Douglas), one of the most ruthless Wall Street tycoons who buys and then takes apart companies for profit. Bud aggressively pursues Gekko in the hopes that he can work for the businessman and follow in his footsteps. Bud soon finds himself in a moral dilemma: does he sell his soul for the gold key to Gekko’s world or remain true to the blue collar roots of his labor union father (Martin Sheen)?
Stone brilliantly sets everything up in the opening minutes of the movie. Bud is first shown as an insignificant cog in the city. He’s mixed in with all the other 9-to-5ers — packed in a subway and then in the elevator up to the company where he works. Bud looks uncomfortable and unhappy. He does not want to be in there with all of these other people. He wants to be on the other side with all the money and with Gekko who rides alone in his spacious limousine. As soon as Bud gets into work, Stone shows a montage of a typical business day — the hectic, rapid-fire pace as people buy, sell and trade shares.
Taking his cue from another Faustian New York City tale, Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Stone prolongs the first appearance of the film’s most charismatic character. When Bud goes to visit Gekko we do not see him, we only hear his voice from within his office. It is an enticing teaser that makes Bud and the audience curious to see this man that everyone regards with such awe and reverence. When we finally do meet Gekko it is a whirlwind first appearance. The camera roves around him aggressively as he never stops talking, making deals and truly embodying the phrase, “time is money.” This is such a fantastic way to introduce Gekko as it perfectly conveys what makes him so alluring to someone like Bud: he is always in control, he is smart and he knows exactly how to get what he wants.
Michael Douglas owns the role of Gekko and by extension dominates the movie with his larger than life character. He gets most of the film’s best dialogue and delivers it with such conviction. There is a scene between Bud and Gekko in a limousine where he tells the younger man how the financial world works, how it operates and lays it all out, pushing Bud hard to go into business with him. It is one of the strongest scenes in the movie because you really believe what Gekko is saying and how Bud could be seduced by his words.
The culmination of Douglas’ performance is his much lauded, often quoted, “Greed is good” speech that his character gives to a shareholders’ meeting of Teldar Paper, a company he is planning to take over. He concludes by saying, “Greed is right; greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words — will save not only Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.” This is one of the best delivered monologues ever put to film as Douglas goes from charming to downright threatening and back again, succinctly summing up the essence of ’80 capitalism and greed.
Visually, Stone ends the film much as he began it with Bud reduced to an insignificant cog in the city yet again, his future uncertain. Wall Street is a morality play about the seductive nature of greed, examining how far someone is willing to go and what they are prepared to do to become rich. The irony is that many people admired Gekko and Stone has said on the supplementary material to the film’s DVD that people have approached him saying that they were inspired to get into the financial world because of this character. The 2000 film Boiler Room even features a group of young stockbrokers watching Wall Street on video and quoting along to some of Gekko’s more memorable dialogue. People who admire Douglas’ character don’t seem to realize that Stone is not idealizing him but merely showing the seductive lure of someone like Gekko. He is not someone to admire and the film leaves his fate somewhat ambiguous while it is Bud who goes to jail. It is this stinging indictment that linger long after the credits end – that rich, powerful men like Gekko never seem to get punished for their transgressions while the common man, like Bud, suffer instead.
The original DVD did not have many extras but the quality of what was included was excellent. They have all been carried over to this new release (minus the trailers) but do the new extras really merit a double dip?
There is an audio commentary by co-writer and director Oliver Stone. He points out that Hal Hoolbrook’s character was based largely on his father who also worked on Wall Street and his life was the impetus for Stone making this film. The filmmaker cites Executive Suite (1954) and Sweet Smell of Success as the primary cinematic influences on his film. He talks about the casting of Gekko and how he originally approached Richard Gere and Warren Beatty before Douglas and why he picked him. Stone talks about Douglas’ early struggles with the huge amount of dialogue he had to deliver and how he dealt with it. The filmmaker is candid with his shortcomings and those of others (i.e. Daryl Hannah, Charlie Sheen, etc.). As always, Stone delivers the goods, offering all kinds of fascinating insights into the making of the film.
The second disc features a new introduction by Oliver Stone that is brief and really should have been put on the first disc.
Another new extra is “Greed is Good,” an hour-long retrospective documentary with Hal Hoolbrook, John C. McGinley, Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas amongst others returning to offer their impressions of the financial world depicted in the movie. Real-life Wall Street types talk about the business world, how it works and how accurate depicted it is in the film. Douglas talks about his character’s look and how it informed his performance. This substantial doc examines the appeal of Gekko and why he inspired people in the business world.
Also new to this edition is over 20 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Stone. There is a nice little scene with Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller as one of Bud’s clients. We also see more of the fall-out between Bud and Marv (McGinley) and an amusing bit where Bud is refused admission into a hip nightclub while Gekko gets in. Also included is an earlier scene where Bud and Darian (Hannah) meet in a bar but Stone cut it because the Hamptons scene at Gekko’s house was stronger. The filmmaker puts all of these scenes into context and why there were cut.
Finally, carried over from the original edition is “Money Never Sleeps: The Making of Wall Street,” a top-notch, 47-minute making of documentary. This focuses more on the filmmaking experience with all kinds of anecdotes from Stone, Charlie and Martin Sheen, and Michael Douglas.