That phone really bothered me
I am not in the camp that has it in for Oliver Stone. Still, for me, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," presented an insurmountable problem.
The opening scene features Gordon Gekko leaving prison after a stint of about eight years. Gekko of course is the antihero first brought memorably to life in Stone's 1987 film, "Wall Street." At its end, Gekko has been brought down for insider trading, and is about to do time.
So fast-forward. As Gekko leaves prison, an official hands him the items he was stripped of before entering. The usual whatnots include a mobile phone the size of a loaf pan.
Audiences in the know will remember how Gekko was constantly doing deals over that thing; he must have been yakking away until the last possible minute. Right?
But wait! Now he has a daughter, who was not in the first film, and presumably not yet born. (Gekko's well-appointed toddler son was on the scene, but no daughter.) If Gekko went straight to jail, yakking all the way, how did she get to know him?
After the prison scene, "Money Never Sleeps" again zips ahead, to 2008, the year of the financial crisis. The daughter, Winnie, is now a young woman and estranged from her father. (She pointedly did not show up seven-odd years earlier, to welcome him home from prison.) She mentions that she got to know her father when he was out on appeal. But when would that have been? Presumably following a trial -- which would have been well after Gekko's initial arraignment. If he was held in jail at some earlier point, then freed for a time, surely he would have gotten his stuff back then.
Both Winnie and her father remember what she liked to eat, as a child, at their favorite Chinese restaurant. So she had to be at least old enough for memories to form. Five? Six? At that point, however, mobile phones would surely no longer resemble the latest model circa 1987. And Gordon Gekko, out on appeal, would not be clinging to an old model.
The further the film wormed into the financial intrigues at its heart, the more I was stuck on the cell-phone problem. At what plausible point would Gordon Gekko have hauled that '80s clunker into prison, not to emerge until a good eight years later?
These are the kinds of difficulties young writers in MFA programs tear their hair out over but at least feel obliged to face. Stone and his writers, though, seem to want to have things both ways: Gekko went straight to prison from the earlier movie -- and he did not. As Julia Child would trill: "Who's going to know!"
Unfortunately, the financial drama in "Money Never Sleeps" is at least as muddled as its family chronology. We know that Bretton James, Gekko's new nemesis, has helped pull down a well-regarded investment house Bear Stearns-style. But after that, what is the game?
The mind swims. Ty Burr, of The Boston Globe, helpfully proposes that you cannot make sense of this stuff in the movie because, after all, no one could make sense of the whole subprime-mortgage debacle in real life. The film's presentation of the bubble, he suggests, is more like jazz. (I'm not sure whether the appearance of actual soap bubbles in the film, twice, is a sincere grab at metaphor or a cry for help. Either way though, the kids in workshop would be merciless.)
Oliver Stone does make Manhattan look luscious, along with its bejeweled and bubble-headed babes and its A-list watering holes. And with this second performance, Michael Douglas has firmly cemented Gordon Gekko in the pantheon of American rogues. But if you have a thing for plausibility, "Wall Street II" could vex you. Starting with the phone.