Oliver Stone’s last two films, World Trade Center and W, continue his career theme of taking political and real world events and crafting compelling films out of them.  Obviously, the recent economic downturn would be not only his perfect muse, but also an opportunity to dust off one of his most iconic characters, Michael Douglas’ hugely charismatic (and Oscar-winning) villain, Gordon Gekko.

The sequel to his seminal work, Wall Street—a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of unchecked ambition and greed—Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps lacks the bite one might expect for a film seemingly positioned to critique the attitudes and mores of those responsible.  We get a peek inside the power corridors of global finance, but the depths of this is not really plumbed.

One almost gets the feeling Stone feels that Gekko became more of an inspiration to the very board room titans and Wall Street power players rather than a mirror to their amoral ways.  However, considering the real world context of financial ruin, too close an examination of complex economic concepts might not be palatable for audiences.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps deploys Douglas sparingly, which has the audience longing for more screen time from him.  He’s just as smart, crafty, though wiser. He at first seems to be a standard repentant sinner as he meets a young trader named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) who wants to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).  Jakes mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), kills himself after being squeezed out of his own firm.  From there the movie angles to put Gekko back in play.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps explores America’s value system when it comes to our pursuit of wealth and the costs of consumerism.  Too often we believe that if we can just get that dream, that castle, that we’ll have the time and the opportunity to make up the costs of what it took to get them. We have faith in the belief that once we attain the dream, everything will work out. A mirror is held up to the value system that sustains this dream:

Consumerism – From the cars we drive, to where we live, to the clothes we wear, we have bought into a lust of life.

Materialism – that quest for more stuff that shrivels people’s souls and empties their lives. We, like any good Americans, are discontent consumers, constantly on the move to satisfy our inner longings.

Entitlement – The bastard son of our lust of life is a perpetuation of a sense of the need for immediate gratification, perhaps even a sense of entitlement, as far too many of us are duped into pursuing these things.

(Hyper-)Individualism – this “me first” narcissism which fragments community.

This leads to an economy fueled by the misery and degradation of others. But Jesus didn’t die for lower taxes, smaller government, pro-business policies, and an individualistic worldview.  If your religion is to mean anything, then be about the poor, the “least of these”.  Life is not about being controlled by money, things, or greed; but about relationships.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps is smart and moves with a surety of someone who not only knows their craft, but also the hallways of brokerages (Stone’s father was a stockbroker). It teeters on pressing home the world it critiques, but doesn’t tear into it with relish.  Maybe that’s another function of a repentant Gekko.