Wall Street (1987)
Release Date: December 11th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Oliver Stone Actors: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, John C. McGinley, Hal Holbrook, Daryl Hannah, Terence Stamp, Sean Young, James Spader, Saul Rubinek, Sylvia Miles
all Street” boasts several excellent performances (including by Michael Douglas, who won the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for 1987) and fascinating ideas, delving into the world of stockbrokers and their involvement in avarice and sketchy moralities. These aren’t uncommon motifs, but examining a faction rarely investigated by feature films sheds some light on an industry that typically caters solely to the wealthy. There are consequences and reactions for every trade and scrutiny by many unlikeable, powerful overseers, establishing a thrillingly cinematic environment. But just as the stock market itself seems to exist primarily for upper-class New Yorkers, “Wall Street” the movie favors those with prior knowledge of corporate raiding, insider trading, and more than just a basic understanding of money management and investing.
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is an account executive stockbroker, working his way from being the little guy at a medium-sized firm to dreaming up a career as an investment banker. As he works alongside friends (John C. McGinley as the over-enthusiastic Marv) and older acquaintances (Hal Holbrook as Lou, the seasoned broker who never pushed his way into the big times), Bud realizes that he needs to add the wheeling-and-dealing millionaire Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) to his client list in order to make it to the top. When he finally gets his foot in the door, he realizes the dangerously affluent man doesn’t need another broker – he needs an insider.
Bud’s first mission is to follow around Sir Larry Wildman (Terence Stamp), a notably moneyed investor whose presence in New York most certainly involves stocks. This activity leads to more underhanded tactics, including spilling inside information about his father’s (Martin Sheen) employer, Blue Star Airlines, which Gordon sees as a perfect opportunity to exploit. Although the ruthless capitalist shows Bud the ropes – teaching him all the ways in which the art of war applies to stock trading – the young broker begins to realize that greed isn’t always good.
The downfall of the movie is the heavy Wall Street lingo that starts in fast and never lets up. Withholding explanations to the fancier terminology doesn’t help either, especially when much of the suspense relies on a fairly solid comprehension of the stock market. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is constantly on the lookout for red flags that suggest insider trading, but it wouldn’t be uncommon to question what exactly is legal or illegal about the many doubtful endeavors Fox undertakes. Inside information is where the real money is at, but “Wall Street” doesn’t divulge too many definitions for audiences unsure of what Gekko and Fox keep playing at – and the term itself is subject to broad and sometimes unenforceable outlines.
As for performances, Daryl Hannah plays Darien Taylor in a remarkably unconvincing role as Bud’s interior designer love interest; James Spader makes a brief appearance as a young lawyer; Charlie Sheen seems a tad overdramatic in the lead, as his wealth deteriorates his morals; Martin Sheen is more memorable as the hardworking father; and Douglas steals the show as the rich guy viewers love to hate. Banking $800,000 per day, he’s a perfectly realistic villain for a movie about greed and gluttony and the ease with which moviegoers of all economic statuses can demonize the top 1%. “Why are we roasting this guy? Did we run out of human beings?”
– Mike Massie