Money Never Sleeps: Wall Street, Stoned

“THE ARTICLE CAME out after the movie was shot,” Mr. Stone protested. “Come on! Please.” In fact, he’s been strange about most of the film’s inspirations. Telling The Hollywood Reporter about one bank they shot in, he said it “gave us the right feeling that we needed for Goldman–I don’t want to say Goldman, I want to say ‘from The Bank’ in the film.” Mr. LaBeouf is less self-conscious. “I was able to get into the Goldman Sachs office, which is like the Illuminati. Nobody gets to go in there,” he recently bragged on camera. “Basically the trade-off was you get me in there, I’ll introduce you to Gekko.”

Asked in May by Reuters whether the material would be a lightening rod, Mr. Stone sidestepped the question by saying the film was really based on the “solid relationships” between the characters. “We didn’t make it about 2008, that was background for me,” he said last week. “And it is a serious background, but it’s not the movie. It could have been done in another era.”

It’s not that he’s afraid of a lawsuit: At a lunch that The Times wrote about recently, the filmmaker even tried to say there was “a little bit” of Robert Rubin, the former Citigroup chairman, in Brolin’s executive.

So is Lew Zabel Ace Greenberg? “I would say he’s a combination of tough, hardened Jewish traders who have been in Wall Street over the years,” Mr. Stone said last week. Is the shot of the Lipstick Building outside of Zabel’s headquarters a nod to Madoff, who ran his scheme there? “It was a happy coincidence,” he said. Does Mr. Brolin’s banker resemble Jamie Dimon in the first half of the film? “Don’t do that to me! You can say there’s an archetype of handsome, slick and relatively unscathed by time,” Mr. Stone said.

Maybe there’s so much slipperiness because his movie’s mixed message about its characters and their dishonesty is not what its director would want to say about the real people behind the financial crisis. The sweet Zabel turns out to be psychotically negligent; Gekko gets evil not long after his inspiring speech; and even his daughter is hiding something awfully large. One character complains that CNBC’s stars sell fear and panic, but a gaggle of them get cameos. And it’s our young hero who spreads a false rumor through a network of short sellers (which earns him a great new job), lies to his fiancé, scares her into doing something awful with Swiss money and is even slightly dishonest when he comes clean at the end.

Even Jake’s abiding passion for green technology investments can’t help but seem suspect by the end. “I’m doing it to make money,” the playboy Vincent Tchenguiz once told a reporter who asked about the conflict between his environmental investments and six SUVs. “The numbers are colossal.” The producers talked to him for inspiration.

 

TWO YEARS AFTER the death of Lehman, and 30 months since Bear’s demise, we’ve had a few great books about the crisis, a nine-volume autopsy of Lehman from its bankruptcy court, a half-billion-dollar Goldman fine with no admission of guilt, Congressional hearings featuring calm non-apologies and now a huge Hollywood film. What we don’t have is a way to talk seriously or consistently about the people and companies responsible for the worst financial collapse in a century.

The best the second Wall Street does is present powerful people who are, mostly, good but bad. “That’s what it’s about,” Mr. Stone said. “How money makes you compromised these days. How money taints all our behavior.”

If money corrupts, then maybe it’s unfair to expect too much from a $70 million Hollywood thriller that features Bvlgari rings (Jake wants to know about the extra-special private Bvlgari collection in the back); the original Wall Street‘s Charlie Sheen, who had his own makeup artist on set for his brief cameo; and a beer advertisement. “Heineken?” Gekko asks his future son-in-law at a Shun Lee dinner. “Yeah,” he answers, before we got a shot of him with the bottle, like Mike Myers jokingly smiling with a Pepsi can in Wayne’s World.

They’re at Shun Lee for a dinner with Winnie, who, after her father interrupts their conversation to sweet-talk Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, gets up and leaves. She’s back by the end of the film, where the credits roll over a happy outdoor party for a 1-year-old, featuring a live band. “Guys like that, having birthday parties,” Mr. Stone told The Times in the Four Seasons, nodding at Steve Schwarzman, “it’s not my deal.”

mabelson@observer.com

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