Sunday, February 2, 2014

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) [PG-13] ***+

Having served a seven year sentence in federal prison for insider trading, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) has published a book predicting the imminent collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, the housing market, the financial derivatives market, and eventually, of the investment banking industry itself. He is doing the public speaking and book signing tour, and in the process is rehabilitating his image.

At the same time Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a rising young energy sector trader working for Keller Zabel, a Wall Street investment bank for whom he is promoting a high-risk fusion energy startup. Moore's mentor is founding partner Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), and Jake's live-in girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan) is Gekko’s estranged daughter. Winnie blames her father for the disintegration of her family and the drug-induced death of her brother. What Jake Moore doesn't know, however, is that Bretton James (Josh Brolin), top executive at Churchill Schwartz a competing investment bank, is planning to destroy Keller Zabel, by spreading rumors that the sub-prime mortgage meltdown has rendered the firm insolvent, while short selling Keller Zabel stock, to profit from the firm's bankruptcy.

During a secret late-night meeting at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, James offers to buy Keller Zabel, but the paltry takeover offer so disgraces old Louis Zabel that he commits suicide. Moore vows to make James pay, and the rest of the story is how Jake and Winnie, along with her father Gordon, exact revenge, while reuniting father and daughter.

Co-written and directed by Oliver Stone, this is a mildly entertaining and thought-provoking story of how the real-life collapse of the financial services industry started in 2008 when Goldman Sachs (real-life Churchill Schwartz) destroyed Bear Stearns (real-life Keller Zabel), after which the Wall Street investment banks collectively asked Congress for an $800 billion bank bailout to stave off a meltdown. The collapse of the financial services industry is an important story, but its impact in this film is dulled because the banks and the major players are not accurately identified, and because the drama around the personal stories of Jake, Winnie and Gordon detracts from the larger story.  Our attention is diverted, and, sadly, the opportunity to tell a vitally important story about Wall Street greed, the risks built into our financial system, and how the Federal Reserve's policy of pumping money into the economy is setting us up for yet another crash, has been squandered. You should watch this film to be entertained, but not enlightened. 

Label: drama, finance 
Internet Movie Database 
Metacritic 59/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=59, viewers=62)    
The Last Days of Bear Stearns

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