I have a soft spot for sleazy ’80s Michael Douglas movies, and they don’t get much more sleazy or ’80s than Wall Street.
Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, an ambitious young stockbroker, still wet behind the ears – literally, given the inordinate amount of gel in his slicked-back hair. This is definitely the greasiest film since Grease. Desperate to get rich by any means necessary, Fox wrangles a meeting with millionaire sleazebag Gordon Gecko, played by Michael Douglas. Who else?
No one does sleaze like Michael Douglas, who looks, in the words of Alan Partridge, like a grey crow. His greasy Gordon Gecko is like a charismatic George Osborne, if you can imagine such a thing. The rest of the cast is also strong – in an inspired piece of casting, Charlie Sheen’s dad is played by Charlie Sheen’s dad, Martin Sheen, and their relationship is understandably heartfelt. There’s also the welcome presence of John C. McGinley AKA Dr Cox from Scrubs, and of course Terrence Stamp, who lends a level of prestige to everything he’s in – with the obvious exception of The Phantom Menace.
Writer/director Oliver Stone delivers a stylish critique of the financial system, depicting Wall Street as a nasty, cutthroat place where scruples are as absent as women. The poisonous characters are well-realised, their excessive lifestyles represented by a comedy ’80s robot à la Rocky IV. The superficial design reflects their flimsy, shallow lifestyles, their tasteless homes apparently designed by Satan himself – or Darien, played by Daryl Hannah.
All films of this type feature the same female character following the exact same trajectory, and this interior designer from hell is no exception – she falls for our protagonist as he rockets to success, then about halfway through they have a huge fight, he gets violent and she leaves. That’s only a spoiler if you’ve never seen a film before.
This 1987 drama is a case of style over subtlety, it features some awful music and I couldn’t tell you any of the plot details – there was something about a steel company? But Stone’s broad strokes and pacey melodrama make it easy enough to follow, because the bad guys are called Bud Fox and Gordon Gecko – both brilliantly evil ’80s names for characters who belong in a zoo, locked away as far as possible from civilisation.
But this, argues Stone, is Reaganite civilisation, where capitalism tramples livelihood and “greed is good.” It’s basically a coked-up version of The Apprentice.