Greed is back . . . and it's just in time
Say what you like about Oliver Stone, but the man has a rare gift for the zeitgeist. There have been mutterings about a possible sequel to his hugely successful 1987 film Wall Street for years, but what better time to release it than 2010, as the financial world struggles to reassemble itself in the wake of the worst crash since the big one back in 1929? Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, which is due to arrive at a cinema near you in late March, has been in development since 2007, and Stone shot it at breakneck speed in Manhattan last autumn in order to get it released as quickly as possible.
Good or bad, the film is sure to attract a lot of interest, because in it one of the great symbols of 1980s decadence is revived. Michael Douglas agreed to reprise the role of Gordon Gekko once he had been assured by Fox Studios that Oliver Stone would also be involved, and Charlie Sheen is to return in a cameo as an older and hopefully wiser Bud Fox.
Gekko, apparently, is also a changed man, because in the new story the once rapacious corporate raider has had a Pauline conversion while in jail for insider trading, and now sees the error of his ways.
Gekko's greatest wish in the new film is to re-establish a bond with his daughter, Winnie (played by English actress Carey Mulligan, who so impressed in last year's An Education), but the young lady wants nothing to do with him.
Her boyfriend Jake, however, does. Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is a hungry hedge funder who believes that his sinister boss, Bretton James (Josh Brolin), had a hand in the untimely death of Jake's kindly Wall Street mentor. Knowing of Gekko's past, Moore asks the silver shark to help him prove James's guilt and bring him down.
How a flashy 1980s cigar-chewer like Gekko will get on in today's terrifying financial climate will be interesting, and if Wall Street 2 is anything like as enjoyable and ingenious as the original we could be in for a real treat. Because although Wall Street contains the usual Stone undercurrent of left-wing preachiness, it remains as watchable and entertaining today as it was 23 years ago.
Stone began making Wall Street, which he initially called 'Greed', on the back of a big hit with his 1986 Vietnam movie Platoon. After the visceral intensity of his war film he was keen to try something very different, and having initially toyed with a script about the American quiz-show scandals of the 1950s (an idea that would later be developed by Robert Redford in Quiz Show), he decided to take on the US financial system.
In doing so he was inspired by the memory of his father, Lou Stone, a Wall Street stockbroker who had died the previous year and had personally experienced the crash of 1929.
He was also influenced by a high-flying New York friend who worked up a multimillion-dollar fortune and lost it all by becoming too ambitious. Stone also wanted to mirror Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment by having a young central character who does wrong, is wracked with guilt and struggles to redeem himself. Once he and Hollywood veteran Stanley Weiser had worked up a script, the director turned to the crucial business of casting.
Tom Cruise campaigned hard to play the part of Bud Fox, the naive and greedy young Wall Street broker who falls under the spell of ruthless company-wrecker Gekko, but Oliver Stone decided to go with Platoon star Charlie Sheen, whose "stiff acting style" would be better suited to the role.
Stone then gave Sheen a choice as to who would play Bud's father Carl Fox, a sturdy baggage handler and union leader and the moral compass of the film. He could have Jack Lemmon or his own father, Martin Sheen, and not surprisingly Charlie chose his dad.
The crucial role, though, would undoubtedly be Gekko, and Stone went against all advice in casting Michael Douglas. The studio wanted Warren Beatty, but he wasn't interested, and Richard Gere was then considered. When Stone settled on Douglas, his studio wasn't happy.
"I was warned by everyone in Hollywood that Michael couldn't act," Stone later remembered, "that he was a producer more than an actor and that he would spend all his time in his trailer on the phone." But the director saw "that villain quality" in Douglas, and cast him anyway.
The character of Gordon Gekko had been inspired by a number of real people, including corporate raider Carl Icahn, Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky (who once said that "greed is right"), and Oliver Stone himself. Douglas worked hard to adapt his lazy Californian tones to Stone's quickfire way of talking, and did a lot of research to make his character believable. The result was memorable, and with his slicked back hair, flamboyant braces and thousand-dollar suits, Douglas's Gekko became the epitome of the yuppie culture that was then sweeping London and New York.
Gekko was positively mephistophelean in his rapaciousness, but he was also hugely charismatic, and many a foolish young executive would subsequently copy his garish sartorial style in order to impress. Michael Douglas won Best Actor at the 1988 Academy Awards, and Wall Street was a big success around the world.
The finished film was not without its problems, most notably the performance of Daryl Hannah as the love interest, which was widely and rightly derided. Then there were the on-set difficulties with Sean Young, who played Gekko's wife. The famously bonkers 1980s star apparently bitched constantly about having been overlooked for Hannah's role, and allegedly walked off with all her costumes after the shoot was finished.
For all its lack of subtlety, however, Wall Street did a very good job of explaining what stockbrokers do and turning stocks and shares into the stuff of a thriller. It will be interesting to see if Stone manages to make sense of this latest mess.