Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Unlike most sequels, Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” has a legitimate reason to exist: to make us consider how different the world is now from the way it was in Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” heyday. The financial malfeasance of the last few years puts that insider-trading scandals of the mid-’80s to shame. And the guys responsible for it? “I’m nothing compared to these crooks,” says Gekko.

“Money Never Sleeps” is set in 2008, just as the phrase “too big to fail” is about to enter the lexicon. Gekko (again played by Michael Douglas) is out of prison, seemingly repentant of his misdeeds, and making a living as an author and speaker. His daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) can’t stand him. Winnie’s boyfriend, Jacob (Shia LaBeouf), a rising star at an investment firm, is in awe of his potential father-in-law’s capitalistic prowess and wants advice. Gekko has been around the block, though, and he knows this mortgage bubble is about to burst.

Stone overdoes some of the symbolism (including that involving bubbles), and at one point actually has the image of Jacob’s dead, honest mentor (Frank Langella) appear over Jacob’s shoulder, lest we fail to note that he is conflicted about the ethics of his actions. The pat ending reeks of afterthoughts and reshoots, too. Otherwise, this is a swift and engaging financial thriller (is that a thing?) that addresses matters of morality without too much moralizing. LaBeouf just about holds his own with powerhouses like Douglas and Josh Brolin (who plays a Wall Street scoundrel), and gives us an entry point into this cautionary fable for our day. Can the cycle be broken? Or are we simply living “Wall Street: The Next Generation”? Stone doesn’t have a lot of answers (thank goodness), but his film is generally entertaining to watch.

B (2 hrs., 13 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity plus two F-words.)