[box cover]

Wall Street

Fox Home Video

Starring Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, and Daryl Hannah

Written by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

To state the obvious, Oliver Stone fancies himself a chronicler of our times. Best known for his lively interpretations of important historical touchtones like the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, and the Vietnam War, Stone's formula for historical epics goes something like this:

Real American Tragedy(Speculative Melodrama)
- Subtlety /Kinetic Editing/Mediocre Box Office
= Oscar Nominations

But there's a flipside to Stone's filmography, in which he attempts to examine America on-the-fly, without the benefit of retrospect. Usually these films — like Any Given Sunday, Natural Born Killers, Talk Radio — are considered departures for Stone simply because of their contemporary settings and more intimate scope. Yet they are charged with the same hyperbolic analysis of what it means to live in America at a specific time, and are all delivered with same aggressive energy and manic lack of self-restraint, spraying flecks of cinematic spittle at anyone within distance.

Wall Street is no exception, released at the tail-end of the Reagan-era and time-capsulizing the enduring images of the 1980s — the amoral businessman, the vacuous blonde with too much hair, and the hollow joy of conspicuous consumption. If one were to throw a party intended to evoke the 1980s, Wall Street would accompany Less Than Zero at the top of the movie list. Except Wall Street isn't really the kind of the movie you'd want to watch at a party. It's better to have it playing muted in the background while people dance to Kajagoogoo and Bow Wow Wow tunes.

Perhaps Stone's most conventional film, Wall Street tells the shopworn story of Bud Foxx (Charlie Sheen), a wide-eyed boy from a blue collar family who moves to the big city dreaming of untold fortunes. His persistance in rising above his low-level brokerage sales job catches the attention of slick and ruthless mogul Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas — or maybe it's Pat Riley), who entices Bud to the dark side of insider trading, off-shore accounts, and stock manipulation. As these stories go, Bud is intoxicated with his newfound power and wealth, takes a second's pause before discarding his ethics, hooks up with a bland and heartless bimbo (Daryl Hannah at her most horse-faced), and eventually learns the error of his ways when he inadvertantly hurts someone he loves. Then, of course, he turns the tables on Gekko to redeem himself. In between there are moments of awkward soul-searching, as Bud somberly looks out across Manhattan from his new penthouse balcony, and says, "Who am I?"

Wall Street is Stone at his most prosaic — and if you need further evidence watch the unambitious 1999 Norm MacDonald bomb Dirty Work, which has the same by-the-numbers plot (but is a lot funnier) — which is not to say it's bad. The plot is solid and moves at a tidy pace, wisely never stopping to explain the mechanics of the stock market and insider training for people who will never grasp the intricacies of such things (like me), but simply plowing ahead through the unfolding drama. Wall Street also pre-dates Stone's maverick approach to montage, so it lacks the bracing style of his later films but still bristles with energy thanks to Ralph Richardson's hand-held camera work.

Wall Street is also notable for its two stars' brief flirtations as serious actors. Douglas, who won an Oscar for his smooth presentation of the film's defining speech about greed being a good thing, had been limited to pulpy fare before and quickly returned to it (only with a much bigger paycheck) thanks to the success that same year of Fatal Attraction. And Charlie Sheen, following up his promising role in Stone's Platoon, seemed set for success as a serious, good-looking young actor, were it not for the rich vein of stupidity running through the Estevez clan. Stone also decorates the background with fine character actors like Hal Holbrook, Saul Rubinek, Terence Stamp, and Martin Sheen in his natural role, to make up for the flaccid supporting presences of listless Hannah and idiotic Stone fave John C. McGinley.

Fox's DVD edition of Wall Street looks good (despite a brief glitch in the print) in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1, and it features yet another less-than-scintillating audio commentary by Stone, who always sounds like he sat on an elephant tranquilizer on the recording-booth stool (cf. Platoon). But for die-hard fans, he still manages to spin a few compelling anecdotes. Also on board are a new "making-of" documentary, trailers, and TV spots.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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