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'Money Never Sleeps' faces hard time on Wall Street

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gordon Gekko, the archetypal villain of iconic 1980s movie “Wall Street” has a new mantra: greed is not just good, it’s legal and it’s everywhere.

Actor and cast member Michael Douglas arrives with Shia LaBeouf (L) for the premiere of the film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" in New York September 20, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

But his words, and the sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” that is set to hit cinemas worldwide on Friday, is unlikely to strike the same chord with securities traders and bankers that made Gekko a cult hero and the epitome of unabashed, 1980s financial excess, industry experts say.

“I don’t think it will be as big an issue on Wall Street in terms of dirtying its image,” said Igor Kirman, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a major Wall Street law firm.

When “Wall Street” hit cinemas in 1987, the stock market had suffered a massive crash and Americans were angry. The film showed how bankers bought companies, stripped their assets, destroyed proud U.S. businesses and left countless blue-collar workers standing in unemployment lines.

Director Oliver Stone may be taking on Wall Street again, but in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial meltdown which drew universal ire from politicians and a steady stream of scandals -- from Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme to the collapse of one firm which embodied the 1980s excesses, Lehman Brothers -- bankers are not worried about Stone’s new film.

“Wall Street has been dragged through the mud in the last year or so. It has been scapegoated,” said Kirman. “There is nothing that Oliver Stone is going to this movie that our president has not said himself. It’s not going to be a huge punch against Wall Street.”

The movie saw its premiere at the Cannes film festival in May and met with mixed reviews. Since then, Stone said, he spent three weeks doing some extra editing.

Michael Douglas is back as ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko, but this time taking the blame for financial chicanery are the major money center banks and those who run them.

Central to the film’s plot is a love relationship between Gekko’s daughter, portrayed by Carey Mulligan, and a young Wall Street trader named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) whose aggressive business dealings land him in trouble.


“Someone reminded me I once said, ‘Greed is good,’ now it seems it is legal, because everybody is drinking the same Kool-Aid,” Gekko says at the beginning of the sequel as he leaves prison after serving time for insider trading.

Stone, a long-time critic of unbridled capitalism whose father was a stockbroker, told reporters that while the film was timely, bubbles in the financial cycle are here to stay.

“Love and trust and greed and betrayal; they go on and...they are equivalent to the ‘80s and they are equivalent now,” he said, adding that the 2008 crisis was not so different from 1987, “When I thought greed was outrageous.”

“The concept of American optimism, making money, being successful, is an ongoing part of the American ethos,” said Stone, who has put forward contrarian views of America in such movies as “JFK” and “Nixon.”

And if some on Wall Streets would not go and see the film because they don’t like him, so be it, he said.

“If you look at it as a don’t sell all your crop to everybody.” he said.

While the ways in which Wall Streeters make money may be different now than a quarter century ago, some industry players said the principles of profit and ambition are unchanged.

“It’s the same type of people and the same sort of culture,” said John Nowak, who works on Wall Street but asked that his company’s name remain anonymous.

Some reviewers said the film will draw interest from fans of the original, but others, including veteran indieWire critic Todd McCarthy, said the script was poorly pasted together and did not stir emotions against the greed of corporate America.

“It’s surprising for Oliver Stone to propagate an air of complacency about the financial state of things,” McCarthy wrote in his review.

(Additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann, Jr., editing by Mark Egan and Bob Tourtellotte)

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