Around the late 1980’s, Oliver Stone established himself as a writer and director who boldly approached controversial issues. Apart from Platoon which delivers an anti-war statement, he made Wall Street by depicting the stock market as an abusive playing field. And if that isn’t enough, then consider that Stone would later go on to satirize the media in Natural Born Killers, carefully draw out a murder conspiracy in JFK, and cynically depict professional sports in Any Given Sunday. These are films all worth seeing by the way. Wall Street warns of a mindset in Capitalism. It’s embodied through a character whose twisted code encourages a single-minded trading. ‘Greed is good‘, he says. It’s a go-against-the-grain type of attitude which audiences can respond to. He is also a tempter, a kind of Mephistopheles, who promises limitless wealth in exchange for ethics. In this manner, Wall Street deals with the aged question about what people are willing to give up for earthly riches.
In the story, a persistent young stock broker named Bud Fox works with a big client named Gordon Gekko, and they make millions. His world changes as he fully engages in the avarice and luxury of upper class society, something he had never experienced before but always wished for. Gekko has tutored him into gaining the sure profit by ignoring trade regulations and fully committing to insider trading. But when Fox exhorts Gekko into buying an airline for noble purposes, he realizes the mistake and must choose between helping the airline or staying loyal to his client. Playing the reptilian tempter is Michael Douglas looking confident, charismatic, and with a tinge of mischief particularly when he grins. Then there is Charlie Sheen as Fox who is naïve, determined, and a blind student to his corrupt master. Martin Sheen is his father Carl, hardworking, honest, and wise. And Darryl Hannah makes an interesting individual as Bud’s lover; she has a materialism that doesn’t seem to coincide with her kindness. On the lighter side, Wall Street’s dialogue is engagingly spiced up. It’s as if conversations are strung together using proverbs, wise cracks, and everyday small talk. Gekko likes to recite words from Sun Tzu “Every battle is won before it is fought”, Carl speaks practical “Money is something you need in case you don’t die tomorrow”, and Fox leans more towards cliché “Life boils down to a few moments”. There’s a certain allure in listening to how they recite their lines. Stock transactions aren’t over-explained. They rely on a common practice: Buy a stock and tell everyone else to buy it. Words to that effect. The camera moves urgently across the trading floor listening to conversations pile up while reading digital screen displays. However it isn’t all about transactions. Wall Street doesn’t require viewers to be fascinated by Stock brokers or their operations. It is still very much a morality tale. A story about a tempter, a father, and the son who is pulled between them. And on that emotional level, it also works.