Just as I finished reading this great book on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, The Big Short by Michael Lewis, which I wrote about for the September 15th edition, I got an interesting perspective on the crisis from Oliver Stone, director of the recently released Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a sequel to Wall Street released in 1987. This movie brings back the famous character, Gordon Gekko, to New York during the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis and thereby, provides another perspective on the events that unfolded. Further, the concept of greed was the central theme of the first movie and 23 years-on Stone feels that greed is still omnipotent and a driving force to the human race.
Greedy for more
Wall Street defined the real Wall Street of the eighties and is considered an all-time classic. This sequel is by no means is even close to a classic; nevertheless it definitely qualifies as a one-time watch. The first film in the series introduced the character of Gekko, played by Michael Douglas who won an academy-award for his performance. Gekko is a charismatic, arrogant executive who makes money by acquiring distressed companies. Gekko was virtually worshipped by young people on the Street and almost every other business student wanted to be him. What I liked most about Gekko’s characterisation was that it is a unique blend of all the positive and negative elements an individual must and also must not posses. In the sequel, Gekko obviously is much older, disgraced and looks jaded as he walk out of prison. However, he keeps getting aggressive as the movie goes on and towards the end regains shades of the old-Gekko.
Stone has showed us once again that greed is a malicious and powerful emotion that is responsible for one’s rise and fall in life in general. In Wall Street, we saw greed fuelled the insatiatiable desire of individual and institutional investors which drove them to use every trick in the book to reach towering heights and in the process gave the financial markets a free bull-run. In fact, Stone believes that greed is the underlying reason for the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis and the following global recession. One of Gekko’s oft quoted lines goes, “Greed for lack of better word is good.” Now, he follows it up by writing a book titled, “Is Greed good?” and says in today’s times greed has become legal. Interestingly, Gekko being a financial genius is portrayed as one of those few individuals who saw the sub-prime mortgage crisis coming and predicted it accurately. Young employees on the Street marvel at him when he draws a parallel between the first defaulted home mortgage payment and the first rain drop. In a lecture to a group of students at Fordham University he says that greed is the reason a bartender in America owns two homes and many middle-class Americans keep re-financing their existing home mortgages and then go on to buy more properties.
Oliver Stone’s perspective on greed over the years and its role in our society is interesting and importantly, the way he conveys it to the viewer through his movies is commendable.
Stone’s perspective on greed over the years and its role in our society is interesting and importantly, the way he conveys it to the viewer through his movies is commendable.
Another striking feature of film are the scenes at Federal Reserve Bank of New York. They seem so real and give the viewer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the acrimonious and vengeful debates that happen in the top corridors of the financial world. After seeing these I can imagine how some of big investment banks would have scared, threatened and blackmailed the U.S. government to dole out billions of dollars worth bail-out packages to save their existence. Just like the first movie, in the sequel too, we get to see how typical Wall Street firms work and I was particularly intrigued to see the way in which a small rumor started by a random employee of a firm spreads faster than wild fire which could potentially destroy a huge bank or the career of a top executive.
A grouse I have with the sequel is the overdose of emotion and drama. Wall Street was unapologetically about the politics of finance and just touched upon the father-son relationship (very realistically played by the real life father-son duo, Martin and Charlie Sheen). On the contrary, in Wall Street-2, the business element serves as a mere back-drop to an intense family drama that probes different complex relationships between father-daughter; a Wall Street trader in the recession-era, his fiancée and mentor-protégé.
I am not sure if we will have a prequel to Wall Street but the legend of Gordon Gekko just got bigger and his legacy will continue to live on.