It might seem morbidly funny now, but Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" shocked audiences in 1987 with its portrait of the barracuda ethos infesting American high finance. Hence, the prospect of a sequel —"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," opening Friday — raised a few obvious questions:
Could a work of fiction possibly match the reality of the past few years, with credit default swaps, foundering subprime mortgages and a whole cast of villainous characters?
Could a returning Michael Douglas possibly make Gordon Gekko — the "Greed is good" guy of the original — seem like anything but a piker? As even Stone has to admit, over the past few years "the bankers became the Gekkos."
What no one could have calculated was the added attention brought to the movie by Douglas' recent illness — stage 4 cancer of the throat — or, given the severity of his illness, the upbeat attitude of the actor, who won a best actor Oscar for the first "Wall Street" and is talking about the whole matter as "just another chapter."
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"It didn't cost Fox a lot," Douglas joked about the media attention his cancer has generated. In New York to promote the film, the actor looked a little gaunt and wore a tousle of unmanaged white hair that seemed to be approaching Einsteinian proportions. And he was frank about the future.
"My doctors are optimistic, I'm optimistic, I get radiation every day, chemo. ... Life goes on," he said. What keeps him upbeat is tennis, college football season and "a picture that's rockin'. What's not to like?"
The picture in question opens with the release from prison of Gekko, who has served eight years for the insider trading that got him arrested last time around.
Shia LaBeouf plays Jake Moore, a young Wall Street hotshot who is living with Gekko's daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), and watches the investment bank owned by his mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), get shot out from under him by the nefarious rumor-mongering and evil doings of the Gekko-like Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Jake wants revenge, and allies himself with the none-too-trustworthy Gordon to get it.
Stone, who used words like "whimsical" to describe his new film, said he had made a movie about people and their foibles —"love, lust, deceit, betrayal."
"I have to make a story people want to see," he said, not apologetically.
He doesn't see the film as being a critique of banks, regulatory agencies or human greed, he said, but instead as an old-fashioned drama.
"It's like an old Darryl Zanuck film," he said, citing as an example the 1947 anti-Semitism drama "Gentleman's Agreement." "There's a socially conscious background, onto which we project human conflict."