Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Lightning rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels.  While some have managed to better their predecessors, they’re usually the exception to the norm.  Which is why it’s surprising controversial director Oliver Stone has decided to tackle this double-edged sword with his first sequel.  Although inevitably not reaching the heights of its grand forebear, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps still has something to say in how greed will always be Wall Street’s greatest commodity.

Released after a long prison sentence, former stockbroker Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) wants his old life back.  This he thinks he can do via Jacob (Shia LaBeouf), an eager financial whiz-kid who happens to be his daughter Winnie’s (Carey Mulligan) fiancé.  Wanting to re-build a relationship with her, Gekko aids Jacob in taking revenge against Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a hedge fund manager Jacob blames for a colleagues’ death.  Using money and number crunching skills as his weapons, Gekko’s return potentially marks a new chapter in Wall Street’s illustrious history.

‘Money Never Sleeps’ complements its predecessor in a way other sequels don’t.  There’s always plenty to say about the state of the monetary system, with the recent global financial crisis providing plenty of fodder.  What’s interesting is how it uses Gekko as a symbol of shrewd patience in acquiring what he wants versus the impulsiveness of James who represents a new way of quickly doing deals at any cost.  Where both are unscrupulous in their shady tactics, they are defined by the success in averting the consequences of their actions.

It’s telling that Wall Street’s original villain is now the sequel’s apparent hero.  Maybe that’s how low Stone regards the banking institutions for creating a veneer of unsustainable wealth, as Gekko appears as a voice of reason.  Whilst the story becomes a little lost within its various machinations, it has a lot of fun in playing with audience’s expectations.  You’re never sure what will happen – something the very strong cast convey with eager relish. 

Although missing the crispness which made Wall Street a smash, ‘Money Never Sleeps’ is a better than expected follow-up.  Tighter editing would have improved it although Stone still knows how to deliver solidly engaging commentary against establishments always having their own interests at heart. 

Rating out of 10:   7

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium Trilogy’ has become a ‘Da Vinci Code’- style phenomenon.  As his books fly off the shelves and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo plays to packed houses, it’s impossible to escape the hype.  That isn’t a bad thing as that and Henning Mankell’s similarly themed Wallander series have shaken the cobwebs of the usually staid whodunit genre.  The Girl Who Played with Fire is no different making for a fair addition to an intriguing investigative series.

Working on a major report on a sex trafficking ring, Millennium magazine writer Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) uncovers a huge scandal.  Appreciative of being notified of the story by a pair of young journalists, he’s shocked when they’re brutally slain.  He’s even more so when his friend Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) becomes the prime suspect.  Determined to find those responsible, they attempt to uncover the culprits whilst lifting the lid on another sinister episode within Sweden’s high society.

If its first chapter established the formula with intense characters dealing with realistic issues, The Girl Who Played with Fire unwisely changes this recipe.  Whilst its tale of murder and revenge is mostly engaging, the dynamic tension so prevalent in ‘Dragon Tattoo’ seems missing.  Not the fault of the main actors who are excellent as always, but more of a screenplay discarding the compelling sub-plots of its predecessor for a more linear story-line.   This adds to a general feeling of watching a less than energetic effort, despite its admirable focus on the character’s backgrounds. 

Despite its less impressive aspects it manages a fairly steady pace.  The genesis of Lisbeth’s violent behaviour is well explored as are the themes of abuse of power.  The differing methods of detection she and Mikael use are still interesting with the magnificent Swedish landscape looming large over the deadly proceedings.  It’s just a shame the original’s ongoing realism is glossed over in favour of outlandish situations making for a less cohesive endeavour.

Even though it reasonably expands on issues rising in its first entry, The Girl Who Played with Fire makes for a somewhat lacklustre successor.   Much better than other run of the mill efforts, more was expected from a franchise which set the bar so high with its memorable preliminary outing.

Rating out of 10:  6