EVERY DREAM HAS A PRICE.
As the credit crisis of 2008 risks putting an end to the world as we know it (at least judging from the grim newspaper headlines), it is high time to take a new look at Oliver Stone’s 1987 film about greed on Wall Street. It came on the heels of the 1986 insider trading scandal and was released a few months after the Black Monday crash on October 19th, 1987. Those were volatile days… but nothing like today.
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is a young stockbroker desperate to make it on Wall Street. He manages to charm his way into the office of a notorious corporate raider, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), and gives him what he wants – a hot tip. Bluestar is an airline that Bud’s father, Carl (Martin Sheen), works for and Bud passes on to Gekko the not yet disclosed information that Bluestar is about to expand its business thanks to a favorable court ruling. Gekko takes on Bud as a protégé and suddenly all kinds of doors open to him – women, cocaine and fancy restaurants are there for his taking. Bud is also introduced to the sexy interior decorator Darien Taylor (Daryl Hannah) whom he has a fling with.
However, the spoils come with a price. Gekko uses Bud as a tool in his continuing adventures in corporate raiding and the day inevitably comes when Gekko decides to get rid of his assets in Bluestar, thereby causing massive layoffs… and Bud’s father will be out of a job.
Capturing excesses to a frightening degree
This is a terrible world that Stone is portraying and since his father was a stockbroker he knows a thing or two about it. Of course, the 1980s were exceptional in its Wall Street excesses and this movie captures them to an icy, frightening degree. The character of Gordon Gekko becomes the very symbol of raw capitalism at its worst. Douglas plays him as highly charismatic but utterly ruthless; he knows that he can get anything he points at and has accepted that the price for the largesse is to leave a trail of financial corpses and ruined lives after him every day at the office. He can live with that because he knows that he won’t end up like his father who worked himself to an early grave. Bud Fox is similar; he sees his father the same way and idolizes Gekko. But in the end his conscience is what sets him apart from his object of admiration.
The battle that follows between the little fox and the wily reptile is highly predictable but compelling nonetheless and Stone is spot on in his depiction of Wall Street excesses at its tackiest (that apartment Darien decorates for Bud takes some kind of prize). He makes it clear that these people are so far detached from regular workers that they have no idea of the damage their little games do. The market economy may be a beautiful thing… as long as the bloodsuckers are kept at bay. The most memorable moment comes when Gordon holds a speech during a meeting at Teldar Paper where he explains to shareholders that “greed is good” and it is the thing that will save America. Reagan couldn’t have said it better himself.
Interesting to see father and son Sheen play opposite sides here; Charlie’s young naiveté was used to great effect by the director in the previous year’s Platoon and he serves the same purpose here.
There’s plenty in Wall Street that seems simplified, but its power is undeniable and its desire for common decency and law and order on the financial markets remains topical. Unfortunately, greed is still good in corporate America. As Lehman Brothers collapsed last September, its CEO walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. Some people always land safely.
Wall Street 1987-U.S. 124 min. Color. Produced by Edward R. Pressman. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser. Cast: Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko), Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox), Daryl Hannah (Darien Taylor), Hal Holbrook, Martin Sheen, Terence Stamp… Sean Young, John C. McGinley, James Spader, Richard Dysart.
Trivia: Richard Gere and Warren Beatty were allegedly considered for the part of Gekko. Followed by Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010).
Oscar: Best Actor (Douglas). Golden Globe: Best Actor (Douglas). Razzie: Worst Actress (Hannah).
Quote: “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. 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, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.” (Douglas)
Last word: “We didn’t know what was coming and we didn’t know this was a special period. People accused me of being a genius who predicted the stock-market crash of 1987. I didn’t predict the stock-market crash. I had no idea.” (Stone, Vanity Fair)