Conservatives who love to hate moviemaker Oliver Stone, who has never found a particular reason to love America, won't find enough venom to abet their passion against him for his latest movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
He has gone soft, mushy and sentimental. On economic theory, he's Paul Krugman on valium. The camera work is great, the scenes of New York are sensational, but the moral hazard in this movie is more about being a bad daddy than a greedy capitalist. Social conservatives won't believe an extraordinary scene where "life" is depicted on a video screen, as an unborn baby kicking and swimming in a mother's womb.
Several reviewers have compared the role of Gordon Gekko, which Michael Douglas reprises from the first "Wall Street," to Satan in "Paradise Lost," the seductive fallen angel that the romantic poets admired in spite of his evil. But Gekko is not even Mammon in this version. He shows little of the unquenchable nastiness that two decades ago gave a whole generation a phrase to groove on: "Greed is good."
After he won the Academy Award for the earlier movie, drunken kids in business school came up to tell him how much they loved the character he played. He was shocked that he had created a role model to imitate rather than a villain to hiss.
"You're the man," they told him. "They didn't learn a thing," he says. Well, maybe not. But the kids have changed, as Gekko himself observes in the new movie: "This is the Ninja generation -- no income, no jobs, no assets."
If Stone had followed up on the potential in that line, he might have invented a film with a dramatic message worth debating. But such dialogue is stillborn. There are lots of cameo roles for rich celebrity types like Donald Trump, but no unemployed workers make the scene. No one talks about the slow-growth, high-deficit economy at the high society fund-raisers where a ticket costs $10,000 a pop.
The bailouts that began under George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama reach Wall Street on a high-speed congressional shuttle from Washington without a murmur of criticism from Oliver Stone.
"I don't know how you show a credit default swap on the screen," he told The New York Times in defense of his failure. "The idea that the entire system was dependent on a credit bubble that could pop overnight -- that is really hard to convey on screen." Stone, so easily taken in by the conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination and the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, seems to have lost his talent for invention in the face of the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2008, which he says prompted him to make this film. Inventiveness can do wonders on screen when you believe in the story.