After a bit of a hiatus for “Old Movies / Young Eyes,” we’re back this week with another movie that may be pushing the limits of what constitutes “old.” But really, seeing as how this movie well preceded the 1990s, I think it fits the bill. Maybe my loose goal of sticking to pre-1985 movies was a little too rigid.
Part of the reason for selecting Wall Street for this week’s post is that I happened to catch the 2010 sequel as an in-flight movie at some point in the last year, and thought now might be as good a time as any to catch the original, which I had not previously seen. After all, it’s been a little while since I’ve had me some Charlie Sheen in my life, so things were beginning to feel a little glum.
As our own Steven B points out in his Sequel City post from last September, one of the things that Oliver Stone certainly does well is provide the viewer with a strong sense of setting. In Wall Street, Stone definitely captures the zeitgeist of mid-1980s Wall Street through the lenses of ambitious young Bud Fox and his would-be mentor, the amoral Gordon Gekko—the portrayal of whom scored Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor.
This film gives us Bud Fox as a symbol of the newer generation coming up in the 1980s, wandering bright-eyed and exuberant toward that classic American promise of wealth and prosperity. As we see after Fox’s long and disheartening day cold-calling potential clients and losing money out-of-pocket to shadier types, his roots are a little more blue-collar in nature. He meets with his dad (played by: his dad—I sort of like it when they do that) at a bar with other blue-collar good ol’ boys. Bud reiterates to his father just how promising his white-collar career can be if he can only catch the right break, and then he hits his dad up for some cash, “just until next month.”
The wheels for Bud’s lucky break—and his introduction to the world of insider trading—are set in motion in this conversation with his father, when he learns of an upcoming boon for his father’s airline company in the form of a favorable FAA finding. Armed with that little nugget of insider info and a box of cigars, Fox goes out the next morning to wish “big fish” Gordon Gekko happy birthday and beg for a few minutes of his time.
Stepping out on the limb like that, Bud Fox gets himself into a position to get schooled in the “real” Wall Street of the 1980s, the one in which “Greed is Good.” As Bud Fox naively asserts that he thought hard work might have something to do with making it big in the stock market, Gekko sets him straight by telling him: “Hard work? My father worked like an elephant all his life and died from a heart attack at 49. You had what it took to get in my office; let’s see if you have what it takes to stay here.”
Bud has positive, grounding influences in this film on both the business and the labor sides of the aisle, in the form of his own hard-working father along with the white-haired Jiminy Cricket type in his office, Lou Mannheim (played by Hal Holbrook). Mannheim regularly chimes in with little corrective soliloquies, representing the idealistic version of how things can or should be in free-market capitalism, such as:
Quick buck artists come and go with every bull market, but the steady players make it through the bear markets. You’re a part of something here, Bud. The money you make creates science and research jobs. Don’t sell that out.
Bud remains set on making the big time, though, and follows Gekko’s leadership until he’s eventually in a position where he’s forced to choose between a broader set of values and the simply value of an easy buck. Also, he gets a chance to have Darryl Hannah walk him through 1980s interior design aesthetics.
All in all, this was an enjoyable movie that highlights some of the serious challenges in the way our economy operates that remain challenges to this day. I certainly agree with Steven B’s assessments, both that both the 1987 film and the 2010 sequel provide fascinating (albeit fictionalized) insights into the kinds of shenanigans that guide the “invisible hand,” and that Michael Douglas outshines both Charlie Sheen and Shia LaBeouf in these movies.