Oliver Stone has captured many a zeitgeist, from "Platoon" to "World Trade Center," though never as successfully as with 1987's "Wall Street." That film introduced the remorseless, amoral über-financier Gordon Gekko, who served as villain or hero depending on a viewer's outlook (and, perhaps, income). Either way, Gekko symbolized a high-flying decade and remains one of filmdom's most memorable creations.
The time seems right for his return in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Gekko's oft-quoted dictum that greed is good clearly resonated with the financiers who gambled their way into an economic meltdown that robbed them of year-end bonuses and stripped many more of jobs, homes and savings. It would feel good to blame one, single Gekko.
The current crisis is more complicated than that, and Stone seems unable to make sense of it. His film has multiple villains, beginning with Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who crushes a rival investment banker, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Zabel's protegee, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), seeks revenge by teaming with a fresh-from-prison Gekko (once again played with pomaded charisma by Michael Douglas). Why Gekko? Jake is engaged to his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
The movie yaps about "moral hazard" but has no moral compass. Jake comes off as a corporate weasel; Winnie lounges in his massive apartment while blogging about green energy. Bretton, thanks to the hard-charging Brolin, inadvertently becomes the most likable character. As for Gekko, Stone casts him as folk hero, con man and thawing iceberg all at once. It's a clumsy way to handle such an icon.
The film's mishmash of styles - split-screens, animated diagrams, many David Byrne songs - suggests that Stone isn't sure what to say about our current predicament. This may be the zeitgeist that got away.