A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Wall Street drama is not R-rated like the original, probably so that star Shia LaBeouf's considerable teen appeal can have maximum impact. The themes, however, are still just as heavy: money, the global economy, politics, family dysfunction. The language is strong (including "f--k"), and there's plenty of consumerism, but the sexuality is tamer than in the first. Ultimately the message is that although money makes the world go round, you need your family more than a seven-figure bank account.
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What's the story?
In 2008, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is an ex-con on the book-tour circuit talking about his lessons learned in prison and how much the global economy has changed (or in some cases, hasn't). His estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), is a liberal website editor who lives with her up-and-coming fiance, Wall Street trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). After a rumor-driven financial crisis forces Jake's boss and mentor, Lou Zabel (Frank Langella), to sell his company at a devastating loss, Lou throws himself in front of a subway train, leaving Jake without a father figure and hungry for revenge. Jake seeks out Gordon for counsel, who "trades" information about who he thinks caused the firm's investment crisis -- and ultimately Lou's suicide -- for a chance to reunite with Winnie. Gordon tips off Jake that Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a powerful hedge-fund manager, is at the bottom of the Zabel fiasco, so Jake tries to orchestrate a father-daughter reunion. Jake ends up working for Bretton, whom he distrusts, and Winnie continues to alienate Gordon, until the subprime mortgage bubble bursts, causing all sorts of climactic changes.
Is it any good?
The bottom line is that this sequel was wholly unnecessary. The original Wall Street, and Douglas' character specifically, became a generational milestone, the sort of movie that people quote decades years later. In this sequel, director Oliver Stone creates a much less compelling and much more sentimental story about how the nature of greed has changed in a couple of decades. All of the performances are good, but not remarkable. LaBeouf is believable as a smart and decent moneyman, and Mulligan dons an American accent beautifully to play a young woman who pretends she's past her family's tragedies and dysfunction. For a movie where Douglas receives top billing, he is once again in the film less than his younger co-star, this time LaBeouf (although Charlie Sheen's whistle-blower Bud Fox does make a short but amusing appearance).
Even though we're a consumerist culture, we're not obsessed with money in the same way we were in the '80s. This movie's messages are something every sitcom and romcom explore -- the balance between work and family; the fact that we should work to live, not live to work. We're now in the Eat, Pray, Love generation of finding meaning, finding ourselves, not finding the next big windfall. The story should've been tightened up to less than two hours (it feels overlong at 127 minutes). The brightest spots are the narcissistic hedge-fund manager played by Brolin, whose character oozes with ego, and his boss, an eccentric Wall Street legend played by 95-year-old Eli Wallach. This money-themed sequel is worth seeing, but it's not nearly as memorable a time investment as the original.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages about greed and materialism. What does Gordon mean when he says "greed is legal" now? Why is Breton's number "more"? In the end, do Jake and Winnie care more about money or their family?
What kinds of consumer products were featured in this movie? How does the movie's anti-consumer message merge with the product placements and celebration of wealth seen in the film?
How does Gordon change in this story? Is he still as greedy and manipulative by the end of the film as he is at the beginning?
- In theaters: September 24, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: December 21, 2010
- Cast: Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf
- Director: Oliver Stone
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language and thematic elements