Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oliver Stone's Wall Street

One of Oliver Stone's best films. As much as I thought from time to time while watching the film that it may be a bit of an exaggerated caricature I was floored to find out that the most extreme parts of the film - such as the "greed is good" speech...(read more) - was actually derived from real-life situations and events - the "greed is good" speech having been influenced by speeches and comments made by Carl Icahn - a notorious corporate raider - and arbitrageur Ivan Boesky who, in a commencement address for UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration said, "Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy..." During the "greed is good" speech in the film I was also reminded of Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan's claim that "what each person seeks in an ideal situation is mastery over a world of slaves." These real-life individuals and comments help illustrate that as much as the film may appear to produce extreme caricatures, the film actually presents a rather moderate depiction of these sort of amoral, greedy corporate-capitalist raiders and mafia dons.

Outside of Wall Street being thematically relevant and grimly prophetic, having anticipated the rampant corruption and greed of the "excesses of the eighties" and the systematic corruption and destructive avarice of the capitalist system in general - most recently made manifest through the early 2000 corporate scandals, such as Enron's - the film is well written - the story is a real human drama, a typical Oliver Stone portrayal of the dialectical struggle between good and evil - brilliantly directed, acted and executed. Both Charlie Sheen's and Michael Douglas' performances were excellent; Douglas rightly won an Oscar for his performance. Martin Sheen, playing Charlie Sheen's character's labor union father and serving the role of the moral backbone of the film, also delivered.

The underlying moral story line many times is presented as too obvious; Oliver Stone tends to ravish his points across without any subtlety or nuance. I want to be provoked to think about the underlying moral story; I don't want it explained to me. I'm torn over this specific point though, the criticism may be overly harsh; after all, the criticism predominately stems from such aspects of the film as the Gordon Gekko character, who, in the final analysis, is actually very much true to life. That may be the real conflict here, that real life in this instance is just an absurdity and cannot be portrayed in any way, doing justice to reality, with subtlety and nuance. In any case, Wall Street should be mandatory viewing.