Oliver Stone make personal films. He fought in Vietnam, so he makes “Platoon,” “JFK,” and “Nixon.” His father was a stock broker, so “Wall Street” shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
I must confess an affinity for business movies and that has stayed with me through the years. “Wall Street” was really my first.
Like most great films, it’s not about what it’s about. The story is about business and stocks, but even though this was the goal of Stone (making a good business film his dad would’ve liked) if that’s all it was, Douglas wouldn’t have taken home the Oscar. This was a morality play at its finest.
Two key scenes tell the entire story.
LOU “What's going on Bud? Do you know something? Remember there are no short cuts, son. Quick buck artists come and go with every bull market but the steady players make it through the bear markets. You're part of something here, Bud. The money you make for people creates science and research jobs. Don't sell that out.”
BUD “You're right, Mr. Mannheim, but you gotta get to the big time first, then you can be a pillar and do good things.
LOU “Can't get a little bit pregnant, Bud.”
That scene tells the main story of Bud vs. himself, and what price must he pay to get to where he thinks he wants to go. Bud doesn’t want to listen, and gets deeper and deeper as the success makes him richer and richer.
Right before it falls apart, and that’s a key message, too (it always falls apart), Lou gives him another speech about his success path and its inevitable crash landing.
LOU “Bud I like you. Just remember something. Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character--and that is what keeps him out of the abyss...”
Michael Douglas has the showier part, and Stone has him honed and sharp, but the film is not about him. Gekko has no journey. He has no character arc, at least not until after his last screen moment. This is Bud’s life. This is Bud paying the cost to be who he always wanted to be and having it crash on top of him. I saw this film just out of college, and Gekko was our hero. Every word of his dialogue became memorized. My college roommate even had a poster of the “Greed is good” speech on his wall.
But give “Wall Street” another take from Bud’s point of view. It’s a much richer and deeper film than most give it credit for being. Douglas grabbed the Oscar, but the film got no other nominations from the Academy. The director of “My Life as a Dog” got an Oscar nomination over Stone for “Wall Street.” I guess winning it the previous year kept some from giving him a consecutive nod.
And Charlie Sheen’s career doesn’t make one look back to 1987 for superior acting chops, especially in a drama, but give him a shot. He allows things to happen to him and actually plays it well. Daryl Hannah, well……not my favorite bit of casting here. Julia Roberts, maybe. Sigourney Weaver, perhaps. Just not Daryl.
I love the scene when Bud Fox finally gets his meeting with his hero, Gordon Gekko, and starts talking about his great ideas. Gekko shoots them down in seconds. Everything Bud stayed up all night studying Gekko already knows and has disregarded. “Tell me something I don’t know,” says Gekko. Fox then spills the beans with inside information about a lawsuit dispute, and the camera shifts, making it look like Fox is sinking, as if in quicksand. The more he says, the deeper he sinks onscreen. It’s a great moment and one that first helped me understand the art of visual storytelling in film.