Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps doesn't have the clean, fable-like arc of its predecessor, the tale of the Fox and the Gekko (Charlie Sheen's upstart broker Bud, Michael Douglas's Wall Street player Gordon). Only the buccaneer charisma of Douglas's signature role obscured the "Clean business, clean soul" moral of Wall Street, released two months after 1987's Black Monday. But everything is so much murkier now.
The Business pages have begun decoding Wall Street 2: Electric Boogaloo, with pieces in the Times and the Observer linking the film's creations to real-life models: The white-shoe "Keller-Zabel" firm, for example, is a Bear Stearns/Lehman Brothers amalgam.
They employ whiz-kid proprietary trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a specialist in alternative energy whose story begins in oblivious, pre-crash 2008, as he sights a gathering storm in the gray, lost expression of Lew Zabel (Frank Langella), managing partner and his father figure. Foundered by rumored toxic subprime debt, Lew goes before the Federal Reserve Board, a three-ton conference table of the old, the white, and the ugly, including Eli Wallach as a relic who predates the income tax, ending every proclamation with a fluttering bird call. Hope of clemency is cut off when Mephistophelean hedge-fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin), of Churchill Schwartz, leans into frame: "Your valuations are no longer believable" are the words that drop like a guillotine.
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