Like “Planet of the Apes,” Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” is very much a product of its time. The fashions, sensibilities, location, etc. are all 1980’s, which dates the film but also gives us an intriguing look back at a bygone era.
And like “Planet of the Apes,” I didn’t really like this one too much, but I don’t think that’s the point of “Wall Street.”
“Wall Street” is the story of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a stock “salesman” who wants to bust in to the money game of investment broking. He’s sick of being just a middleman, and he wants to be the one with all the cash to throw around.
He eventually gets the attention of one Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a soulless and corrupt investment banker (best in the business, and the most ruthless). Bud slowly begins to make his dream come true and slowly begins losing his soul in the process. Fortunately, it’s not on overnight process for Bud, thanks in large part to his father, Carl (Martin Sheen), who keeps our young climber grounded (to a point).
The crux of the film, the moral quandary, comes down to a man torn between two fathers: one a Devil that embodies all his darkest dreams, and one a Saint (played by Martin Sheen) who embodies the idealist dreams of youth. It’s an old story in “modern” dressing, but for the most part the performances hold up to 20 years of scrutiny. Gekko is still delightfully evil, Carl Fox is wise but also practical in his lefty impulses, and Bud Fox swings between the two with believable ambivalence.
(Apparently, Charlie Sheen chose his dad to play his character’s father, and the characters’ relationship is all the richer for the real-life back story of the actors.)
But, despite how much I liked the performances, there’s really not a lot to like in the movie. “Wall Street” is too simplistic and (at times) heavy-handed to get invested in the story (it’s no fun watching when you do all the thinking for us, Stone). I can’t even feel sorry about our hero’s downfall when we can see that he did know better, but he followed Gekko’s path anyway.
Greed wasn’t good for him, and if 2008 taught us anything, it wasn’t good for the world.
“Wall Street” is a good time capsule, but it’s best as a relic.
“Wall Street” (1987)
Written by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox)
Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko)
Martin Sheen (Carl Fox)