Has there been a more appropriate time to bring up Oliver Stone's 1987 film 'Wall Street'? I've wanted to write about this film for a few months now. More specifically, I wanted to write about the ironic impact the film had on the the financial centre of the United States.
"Wall Street" is the story of Bud Fox, a young broker who has grand ambitions of becoming a big time financial player. He ends up hooking a big time client, Gordon Gekko, a major market speculator and corporate "raider". Bud's father is a blue collar worker at a small airline company and inadvertently gives Bud some inside information regarding an upcoming court settlement. Desperate to bag Gekko, Bud gives him the inside information and kick starts his rise through the ranks. Bud's biggest problem is his lack of experience and the information he gets legitimately is weak and not worthy of Gekko's time. Gekko knows this and urges Bud to get the inside information that Gekko uses to make the big deals. As the story progresses, Bud is corrupted and begins to make himself in the image of the shrewd and successful Gekko.
"Wall Street" is both flawed and terrific. It features some great performances, great dialogue and strong characters. The major flaws come from a fairly contrived and earnest ending. I personally dislike the Stuart Copeland electronic score. Like most synthesizer scores of the 80's, I find the soundtrack rather empty and insipid. Daryl Hannah is an exception to the performances as many of her dialogue scenes were very obviously overdubbed (adr) and sound forced.
What I found to be even more interesting than the film itself is the 20th anniversary documentary on the dvd. What you discover in this footage is that Gekko, the films corrupt villain, has been worshipped by many in the Wall Street community. There are scores of interviews with brokers who talk about how Gekko inspired them. Most of these men criticized the end of the film as Gekko got his comeuppance. How wonderfully ironic this is in a fairly earnest film that attempts to expose the corruption of the financial system but ends up inspiring the real-life Gekko's who recite lines from the film like "greed is good", "lunch is for wimps" and "what's worth doing is worth doing for money". To take the irony a little further, Stone contends that Richard Nixon decided to invade Cambodia after watching Frank Shaffner's "Patton". If that film had a negative effect on the Vietnam war, certainly you could argue that Stone's "Wall Street" has had a negative effect on the current Wall Street. Greed is good and greed has borne much fruit in the current economic crisis in America.
As fun as it is to assert Stone's roll in the current economy, I don't actually put much stock in the idea. It is ironic but I wouldn't think of the world so simplistically. What "Wall Street" underlines is that colourful villains in films can upstage the heroes. Bud Fox has great character development but he is overshadowed by the rich and successful Gekko. Gekko is the in the exciting business of corporate warfare and, like Patton, there is much to admire about the way he slays his foes with such ingenuity, force and precision. Truffaut is famously quoted "there is no such thing as an antiwar film", war is exhilarating and exciting with the extreme drama of life and death. Gekko, in his metaphoric trench, is much more exciting to watch than young Bud fumbling his way through the story (I wonder if Stone named him Bud in a homage to that other great ladder climber CC "Bud" Baxter from Billy Wilder's "The Apartment"). Whether you agree with Truffaut or not is irrelevant, the idea is solid. "Raise the stakes" is one of the mantra's of feature filmmaking and some of the audience connected with Gekko and his obsession to win the battle by any means necessary.
In the end of "Wall Street" Gekko does get what is coming to him. There are consequences to devastating peoples lives for the sake of a buck. Yet, twenty years later, the mantra "greed is good" is as strong as ever. The price of gas is much higher than the worth of a barrel and most economists say it's because of the speculators, those Gekko types who love to put us all over the barrel so they can take as much as they can.
And do these wealthy men give anything back? In nature they call them parasites...