Of all the movies dealing with the dead-eyed corruption of the Eighties, Wall Street was the biggest and the best. If nothing else, Wall Street, from 1987, did for red braces what Fame had done for leg warmers – for while this is a deeply moralistic tale, with a definite nasty comeuppance for the greedy wrongdoers, it is also a deeply glamorous and seductive dissection of the Eighties -the decade that subtlety forgot.
The fact that the mantra of Gordon Gekko was "Greed is good" is in retrospect not so shocking as the way that the entire world seemed more than willing to take it up as its own catchphrase.
Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, a young and ambitious Wall Street broker, who offers the corporate veteran Gekko (Michael Douglas, pictured) inside information in return for a shot at the big time. As an extra twist, the information Sheen uses to ingratiate himself with Douglas comes courtesy of his father (played by his real-life dad, Martin Sheen), an impoverished airline mechanic fighting to save his job and his union.
At this point, the moral question driving the movie becomes so obvious that there is a danger it will collapse under the weight of its own cheese. Sheen’s father -good, decent and blue-collar. Sheen’s god, Gekko -bad, corrupt, and wealthy. Which way will Charlie Sheen’s character jump, and will it be too late when he finally decides to turn his face away from evil?
Oliver Stone was the writer and director of Wall Street, as always never working better and with more confidence than when his control freak tendencies are given full rein. As Stone famously works with such unforgiving broad brush strokes, the humanisation of his characters is left to the actors, with wildly varying results.
Douglas is pure screen adrenalin as the heartless, snake-eyed villain, wafting through his demonic role with as much cloak swirling and puffs of sulphur as he can manage without descending completely into farce.
Charlie Sheen does less well as Bud, aiming for slick and urbane, but ending up looking like a slightly pudgy actor in a cheap suit. Sadly for Sheen Jr, his shown up not only by Douglas but also by his father, who manages to breathe some real life into his cliché ridden character. (When Greed Became Good On ‘Wall Street’, 2008)
Although there are no bloody shoot-outs as such, on a psychological level this is one of Stone’s most violent movies, dealing as it does with the staggering amount of evil that human beings are prepared to embrace in the pursuit of self-advancement.