WALL STREET (Oliver Stone, 1987)

Except that their politics are mightily opposed, one could mistake Oliver Stone’s Wall Street for something by Frank Capra; much of the sensibility, the emotional atmosphere, of the film is Capraesque. This and Salvador (1986) are Stone’s best, most heartfelt films, and Wall Street is the finer of the two. Yes, even with its mildly surprising twist near the end, the script by Stanley Weiser and Stone ensures a predictable, schematic, old-fashioned result; but the pace of the thing rarely plods, a few of the set-pieces crackle, and the mise-en-scène is often expert.
     There are three major characters: junior stockbroker Bud Fox and the two fathers, biological and surrogate, who battle for his mnd and soul. Carl Fox, maintenance foreman at Bluestar Airlines, represents the struggling company’s other unionized workers, while corporate raider Gordon Gekko, Wall Street legend, uses for his own benefit, destructive to Bluestar, inside information that Carl has mentioned to his son and Bud, in turn, pursuing him as a client, divulged to Gekko. In the most brilliant shot of Stone’s career, one that is Wyleresque, Bud faces Gekko; Bud’s back, in the foreground of the frame, is diffuse and immense, while Gekko, small due to the perspective, is sharply focused—if you will, concentrated—in the frame’s background. Bud, whose maturity has yet to flower, has the potential to bring his own personality into sharper moral focus, by following his father’s unselfish path, while something selfish inside Bud currently responds to the tempting demon of ambition—visually small because mean-spirited—that the reptilian Gekko represents and projects. What a shot!
     “Greed is good,” Gordon Ayn Rand Gekko announces in a public forum. For Stone, Gekko—ferociously played by Oscared Michael Douglas—encapsulates American capitalism, which admits two motives or impulses: the pursuit of profits, no matter the cost to oneself or others; the enhancement of one’s own power and influence. But because the role of Gekko is restricted to the professional drive and manipulativeness that have consumed the character’s existence, it admits no human complexity or coloration. Gekko, rather, is the pure evil with which Stone identifies capitalism.
     Stone’s morality play, which succeeds in avoiding sentimentality despite Bud’s eventual embrace of his “better angel,” benefits from Stone’s foxy casting of Martin and Charlie Sheen as father and son. Watching father and son Sheen play the two Foxes proves irresistible, especially at hospital after Carl’s “second” heart attack—a reminder of Martin’s own earlier heart attack—when Charlie-as-Bud tells Martin-as-Carl that he loves him. Seamless and resonant.
     Overall, though, the younger Sheen is only so-so.

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