Image: LaBeouf, Stone, Douglas
20th Century Fox
Oliver Stone, center, has made a more nuanced "Wall Street" this time around. The sequel costars Shia LeBeouf, left, and Michael Douglas.
By contributor
updated 9/21/2010 2:57:17 PM ET 2010-09-21T18:57:17

Greed, for lack of a better word, is bad.

With his cinematic return to the roiling, shark-infested waters of Wall Street, director Oliver Stone has a second shot at selling that morality tale, 17 years after a similar cautionary message got lost in the glare of Gordon Gekko’s machismo and mantras.

Still slick, sly and now slinging apocalyptic warnings, the Gekko is back, played once again by Michael Douglas. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — the sequel to Stone’s iconic ‘80s flick —opens Friday, two years after Manhattan’s real-life bankers and financiers began to come apart at their crisply tailored seams.

But those looking for a simple morality tale might be disappointed: Stone does not see America’s financial industry in black and white.

Where the original film exposed the dangerous seduction of gathering wealth at any cost, the sequel is a somewhat more nuanced depiction of Wall Street in the cataclysmic days of the 2008 financial meltdown.

“I see two sides,” says Stone, who says he inherited his balanced view from his father, Louis Stone, an old-school stockbroker who preached the value of Wall Street in building the nation’s economy.

Stone still believes the nation’s financiers “have a huge role, and a positive role” in the economy. But he contends that Wall Street let the country down in the financial crisis that still weighs on the nation’s economy.

“When Wall Street’s function does not benefit society, then it has to be regulated and changed,” Stone says. He argues that too little of the prosperity generated in recent years by Wall Street players, banks and financiers has drifted down to other American workers.

Related: Fan of campy original has suggestions for sequel

“The money is going to the pockets of the stockholders and the banks. The executive class has been paid enormous compensations. When (the federal government) gave (Wall Street banks) the bailout, and then they turned around and took so much of that money as bonuses, it was disgusting.”

He opted to revisit the scene of the carnage which, he says, drapes the film in “a sense of karma.”

Threading a love story and family drama around brightly colored, ever-streaming stock tickers, Stone uses the film to explain how the leveraging of "toxic" debt created a real-estate bubble that popped and sent the economy into momentary freefall.

Stone takes viewers inside the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the height of the crisis, where, gathered around a mammoth wooden table, banking chiefs point fingers, scream panicked questions and envision the imminent closing of all U.S. banks and the massing of angry mobs. One elderly financier warns they are glimpsing “the end of the world.”

Video: LaBeouf: Stone is ‘Orson Welles meets Easter Bunny’ (on this page)

Douglas reprises his role as Gekko, seemingly more grounded following his incarceration yet still carrying a taste for blood. Douglas, who is being treated for throat cancer, has said he hopes to attend the U.S. premiere of “Money Never Sleeps” in Los Angeles.

While Stone says the Wall Street of his movie serves merely as a “background” on which he paints the themes of envy, avarice and the preciousness of time, the director also is using the moment to cast some real-world warnings.

"The bubble era of easy money ... is still an issue," he said. "It’s a latent kind of cancer that no one really wants to talk about in depth. We’re covering it over right now.”

The original "Wall Street" was generally liked on Wall Street and even taken as inspiration by some young traders and students who adopted Gekko’s maxim that “Greed ... is good.”

It seems unlikely, however, that Wall Street workers will warm to the sobering sequel in the same way.

Former Merrill Lynch stock broker Scott McCleskey predicts audiences in general will enjoy seeing some pain in Gekko’s eyes.

“There hasn’t been a good story yet which allows people to vent at the perceived perpetrators of Wall Street,” says McCleskey, who left trading in the early 1990s and became the global head of compliance for Moody’s.

Review: A rare sequel that feels relevant and necessary

Last year McCleskey testified before Congress that while at Moody’s, he raised internal concerns that the firm was not properly monitoring ratings on municipal debt. But senior managers, he told lawmakers, were willing to silence employees who voiced such worries. In 2008, McCleskey was dismissed by the company. This year, he authored “When Free Markets Fail: Saving the Market When It Can't Save Itself.”

McCleskey said he was motivated to become a watchdog by his experience “working in close proximity to the ‘greed is good’ crowd” of the early '90s. Some of his broker peers, he adds, embraced the anti-hero Gekko because the film was released “at the beginning of a market boom, and at a time when insider trading was seen as a victimless crime. Too few people could empathize with being a laid-off union worker, especially ... when they were largely seen as overpaid and over-benefited.”

The original “Wall Street” had the opposite effect on Praveen Puri.

The film “sparked my imagination and inspired me towards an interest in Wall Street, trading and investment banking,” says Puri, who swapped stock futures in the 1990s. “I remember daydreaming about controlling a giant web of corporations."

“Gekko’s speech that ‘Greed is good’ really set a tone that Wall Street could focus solely on making money and not worrying about the consequences,” adds Puri, author of “Stock Trading Riches.” “People bought into the notion that the cumulative actions of traders singlemindedly pursuing wealth would somehow benefit society — the ‘invisible hand’ of capitalism.”

Indeed, Gekko, for many, defined an age with one phrase. Stone again gives the graying Gekko some golden proverbs to spew, including a profanity-punctuated opening for his first post-prison speech.

Soon-to-be-viewers like Puri and McCleskey are hoping to hear the right words, this time, from the memorable character.

“Maybe,” suggests McCleskey, “ ‘You learn the darnedest things in prison.’ ”

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“The new catchphrase could be,” offers Puri, “ ‘Get rich, but still sleep at night.’ ”

No spoilers here. Revenge-hopeful audiences may get satisfaction, they may not. But Stone is willing to offer up his own adage when the topic turns to post-crash wisdom.

“Gekko was a one-dimensional figure in that (first) movie, and I liked him for it. He was shallow but interesting — a reptile,” Stone says. “But now he’s got a (grown) daughter. He’s a much older man, and he’s closer to his death. He’s facing a life without love, a life without meaning. So he has to come to a decision. Every single character has to come to a decision.

“That kind of money takes them all to the edge.”

© 2013  Reprints

Photos: From Wall Street to Rogue Trader: Films of greed, graft and gluttony

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  1. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

    Wall Street is making a comeback – in theaters near you. The sequel to the Oliver Stone-directed 1987 classic opens nationwide Sept. 24, with Michael Douglas reprising his character as money-grubbing Gordon Gekko.
    Is it a coincidence that geckos are slimy lizards that blend into the crowd?
    “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” continues the theme of greed, scandal and retribution – all qualities of many great motion pictures and TV movies about big business. Here's a list of some recent films that deserve a second look.
    Spoiler alert: Descriptions include key plot points. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Wall Street

    Year: 1987

    Director: Oliver Stone

    U.S. Gross: $43.8 million

    Description: The tale of high-powered success on Wall Street, driven by nothing more than greed. The greediest of the bunch, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), left, takes a liking to up-and-coming stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), right. The two scheme and swindle their way to oceans of money, until Gekko forces Fox to jeopardize the company run by his father (Martin Sheen).

    Real-life parallel: Gekko’s character is at least in part based on Ivan Boesky, the arbitrageur who amassed hundreds of millions of dollars by timing his investments to corporate takeovers, only to be found by the SEC to have hedged his bets on insider information. Boesky was sentenced three and a half years in prison and fined a whopping $100 million. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Working Girl

    Year: 1988

    Director: Mike Nichols

    U.S. Gross: $63.8 million

    Description: Aspiring businesswoman Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), left, is working as a secretary when her Wall Street boss Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), right, breaks her leg. Lucky break for Tess. After learning that Katherine was planning to steal her idea to save the company from a takeover, Tess makes a separate deal while her boss is recuperating. It’s a sly move that includes Tess stealing Katherine’s boyfriend played by Harrison Ford, far left.

    Real-life parallel: Just as plucky character Tess gained attention and success, so too did Melanie Griffith. This break-out film earned Griffith an Oscar nomination and the Golden Globe as Best Actress. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Trading Places

    Year: 1983

    Director: John Landis

    U.S. Gross: $90.4 million

    Description: For a $1 bet, owners of a brokerage house swap the lives of a street hustler and a successful commodities trader. Top employee Louis Winthrope III (Dan Aykroyd) is jailed for petty theft after he is framed by owners Mortimer and Randolph Duke. The brothers then arrange for Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), pictured, to work at the brokerage. Valentine's street smarts help him keenly predict commodity movements. After the lowlife rises in society, Randolph wins the wager. But the victims get the last laugh.

    Real-life parallel : Born and raised in 1960s Brooklyn, Eddie Murphy has had a hugely successful career. His acting work alone has helped place him second all-time to Tom Hanks among U.S. box office draws at $3.7 billion. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Glengarry Glen Ross

    Year: 1992

    Director: James Foley

    U.S. Gross: $10.7 million

    Description: In an environment dripping with machismo and testosterone, New York real estate co-workers are thrown a bone by their boss – win a sales contest and drive away with a Caddie Eldorado. Second prize: steak knives. Third prize: You’re fired! Alec Baldwin, pictured, plays Blake, the aggressive, demanding boss who doesn’t hesitate to give his weakest employee the sack. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin also star in this cut-throat drama.

    Real-life parallel: Baldwin’s role as the hard-nosed real-estate boss is seen every week on TV’s The Apprentice in the form of high-powered property scion Donald Trump. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Secret of My Succe$s

    Year: 1987

    Director: Herbert Ross

    U.S. Gross: $67 million

    Description: Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox), is a sharp kid from Kansas who arrives on New York City’s doorstep expecting to find wealth and happiness. His first job as a financial whiz falls through before he even starts. A visit to his uncle’s large company leads to a job – in the mailroom. That’s where Foster meets a top company exec in Christy Wills (Helen Slater), whom he wants to win over by pretending to be successful. Being an imposter to gain a woman’s affection and learning his uncle (Richard Jordan) is having an affair with her leads to moments of awkwardness and back-stabbing.

    Real-life parallel: Nepotism runs rampant in corporate America, including New York City. Just ask Hank Steinbrenner. (Universal Studios / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

    Year: 1967

    Director: David Swift

    U.S. Gross: not available

    Description: Young New Yorker J. Pierpont Finch uses guidance from the book “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” in his attempt to carve out a slice of the profit pie. Finch (played by Robert Morse), pictured, gets a job for a company in the building where he washed windows, World Wide Wicket Co. He then climbs the corporate ladder, confronting road blocks and seizing on opportunities in equal measure, until he is within reach of the top – only to find that being truthful to himself is the best lesson in life.

    Real-life parallel: Who needs the World Wide Web when you have the World Wide Wicket Co.? OK, that’s not a good example, especially if you ask young internet stars Sergey Brin and Larry Page. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Office Space

    Year: 1999

    Director: Mike Judge

    U.S. Gross: $10.8 million

    Description: Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is having a bad life. He learns his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) is cheating on him, he has the neighbor from hell and he hates his job. A hypnotherapist (Michael McShane) turns Peter into a happy and care-free man. Then the hypnotherapist dies. The locked-in change of attitude places Peter in good stead with the bosses who simultaneously promote him and downsize the company. A plan hatched by some laid-off pals to siphon company cash into Peter’s account goes awry.

    Real-life parallel: This cult film must be a favorite of all workers at the local office supplies store. It includes a quirky thread about a stapler. Not just any stapler. A red Swingline stapler. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Up in the Air

    Year: 2009

    Director: Jason Reitman

    U.S. Gross: $83.8 million

    Description: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), pictured, is hired to fire. An avid collector of frequent flier miles, Bingham goes from company to company attempting to be compassionate and empathetic while brutally cutting jobs. His life as a corporate henchman is put at risk when his bosses hire a young, upwardly mobile achiever (played by Anna Kendrick), pictured, who recommends conducting the layoffs via remote linkup.

    Real-life parallel: The job-cutting ax has been out across many sectors of American business. Just ask the people who used to work in the financial services and automotive industries. Cutting businesses to the bone in desperate economic times is clearly a full-time business. (DreamWorks Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Hudsucker Proxy

    Year: 1994

    Director: Joel Coen

    U.S. Gross: $2.8 million

    Description: When company boss Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) commits suicide, the board decides to appoint someone who knows nothing about the business – in this case, a guy from the mail room played by Tim Robbins, left – a move aimed at running the company into the ground. With the business left in tatters, Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman), right, and his fellow directors swoop in to stage a low-cost takeover in hopes of rebuilding the business and cashing in on the rising share value – to the curiosity of an enterprising reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

    Real-life parallel: We hope there are no real instances of a board hiring the weakest link to lead the company, but if you hear of any examples let us know. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tucker: The Man and His Dream

    Year: 1988

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    U.S. Gross: $19.7 million

    Description: Preston Tucker has a vision to produce the best cars in the world. With a love of cars that overshadows his business sense, Tucker manages to obtain funding for his assembly-line factory in post-World War II Chicago. His chutzpah and salesmanship generate interest, but industry and political insiders team up to block manufacture of the so-called Tucker Torpedo. Based on a true story, the result was that many investors lost their money on a company that produced only 50 cars.

    Real-life parallel: Surprisingly, the storyline is similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s maverick style and his own attempt to build a new movie studio – successful in the director’s case. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Boiler Room

    Year: 2000

    Director: Ben Younger

    U.S. Gross: $17 million

    Description: Picture a shady brokerage firm dotted with high-pressure, cold-calling salesmen. Among them is Seth Davis, a Long Island college dropout (played by Giovanni Ribisi), pictured, who scams his way to high investment returns. Once the “pump and dump” scheming wears on his conscience, Davis finds getting out of the game to be far more complex than simply walking away.

    Real-life parallel: Type two words – shady broker – into Bing and you get more than a million results. Need we say more? Seriously, this movie does a surprisingly good job of explaining the “pump and dump” scheme that most commonly afflicts low-priced, thinly traded stocks. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Barbarians at the Gate

    Year: 1993

    Director: Glenn Jordan

    Gross: not applicable

    Description: Based on the book of the same name, this HBO movie tells the true story of an attempt by RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson to take over his company. Johnson (James Garner), pictured, doesn’t want to face his stockholders when a smokeless cigarette product flops. His solution: A leveraged buyout of RJR. That way, no one can hold Johnson accountable. But buyout king Henry Kravis (Jonathan Pryce) also has his eye on the company. That sets off a bidding war, which Johnson ultimately loses, and the inflated buyout price creates crushing debt for RJR.

    Real-life parallel: The film includes Fred Thompson in a supporting role, a year before he became a U.S. senator from Tennessee…as real-life as you can get. (HBO) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rogue Trader

    Year: 1999
    Director: James Dearden
    U.K. Gross: $1.6 million (only shown on TV in the U.S.)
    Description: The true story of a derivatives specialist who lost it all. Barings Bank allows Nick Leeson wide latitude to run the British firm’s options trading operation in Singapore in the 1990s. Out of sight, out of mind, Leeson (played by Ewan McGregor), pictured, is eventually buried in losses – worsened by illegal trades – adding up to an astounding 800 million pounds (about $1.4 billion). By the time the bank discovers the sea of red ink, it’s too late. Barings collapses and Leeson is sentenced to six and a half years in a Singapore prison, where he wrote the autobiography that led to this film.
    Real-life parallel: If Barings isn't enough evidence, we can certainly point to the sudden demise of Lehman Brothers. (Cinemax / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Other People's Money

    Year: 1991

    Director: Norman Jewison

    U.S. Gross: $25.7 million

    Description: Attempts at a hostile takeover of family-run New England Wire and Cable are complicated by the corporate raider’s love interest in the lawyer-daughter of the company owner. The film came at a time when takeovers were commonplace and businesses were eager to beef up their holdings. Starring Danny DeVito as Lawrence “Larry the Liquidator” Garfield, pictured, Gregory Peck and Penelope Ann Miller.

    Real-life parallel: Corporate America is loaded with similar M&A storylines. It’s all about the money, especially if it’s other people’s money. (Warner Bros. / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Bonfire of the Vanities

    Year: 1990
    Director: Brian De Palma
    U.S. Gross: $15.7 million
    Description: Tom Hanks, right, stars as bond trader Sherman McCoy, whose life is perfect as he nears a million-dollar deal. Then, poof, it goes up in flames when McCoy’s mistress (Melanie Griffith), left, hits an African-American boy with his car, triggering a domino effect fanned by sensationalized tabloid stories and sharp criticism by media-savvy religious and political leaders. It gets worse from there for the man who had everything.
    Real-life parallel: Two names come to mind: Michael Milken, a junk bond trader from the 1970s and 1980s who received a 10-year prison sentence for insider trading; and the outspoken Rev. Al Sharpton, who for decades has been at the forefront of equal rights and fair representation for minorities. (Warner Bros. / Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. American Psycho

    Year: 2000

    Director: Mary Harron

    U.S. Gross: $15.1 million

    Description: The title says it all. Crazed killer Patrick Bateman has a hugely successful position working on Wall Street. Good day job…and a not-so-nice gig while under the veil of darkness. A dislike for all things corporate America fuels his violent tendencies. Christian Bale, left, plays a convincing psycho in this movie, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis.

    Real-life parallel: No way near the level of violence portrayed in the movie, but it’s interesting how Bale has had a dark moment or two in real life. Can you say temper tantrum? (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

    Year: 2005

    Director: Alex Gibney

    U.S. Gross: $4.1 million

    Description: Based on a best-selling book, this documentary focuses on the players in one of America's biggest scandals. The film shows how Enron's former CEO Jeff Skilling established a Darwinian culture among his employees. Recordings reveal employees triggered blackouts in California after purposefully diverting energy out of the state to boost electricity prices – scoring huge profits.

    Real-life parallel: Does WorldCom ring a bell? The communications company was found to have used fraudulent accounting methods to cover growing losses in an effort to improve its stock price. Just after Enron’s demise WorldCom filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2002, at the time the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. (Magnolia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: LaBeouf: Stone is ‘Orson Welles meets Easter Bunny’

  1. Closed captioning of: LaBeouf: Stone is ‘Orson Welles meets Easter Bunny’

    >>> we're joined now by the one and only shila buff who's star of the movie " wall street ".

    >> we're excited for you.

    >> were you even born when wall street came out?

    >> i was just a year old maybe, 1986 , it came out?

    >> was it an important part of your research to study that movie and dissect it?

    >> i watched it on oliver. and he's big on updates. i watched it many times before i came in.

    >> the director is oliver stone and he's an interesting director in that he gets inside your head. but as an actor, with him in charge, it's interesting.

    >> he's orson wells and the easter bunny .

    >> why do you say that?

    >> he knows what he wants and he demands a lot, but he's got a soft touch. he doesn't berate you, but he expects a lot.

    >> there's a lot happening in the economy between the time the first one came out and this.

    >> you know, the greed is still there, even now, after having made it, they're bundling life insurance policies grim reaper style. it did get worse, less sex, drugs and rock 'n roll on the streets.

    >> i think all the characters have a little bit of good in them and then a good streak of evil in them as well.

    >> it's a bunch of sharks trying to eat each other alive. but if there is a good guy in this movie, it's jake.

    >> you know, i was their conduit to michael douglas . i was the introduction to superman. you rub my back and help me get some coin. so i have really good bargaining chips.

    >> i read one review in the paper, five stars. pretty good stuff.

    >> you're a real talent.

    >> and wall street money never sleeps, opens this friday.

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