'Wall Street,' the new film by director Oliver Stone ('Platoon'), is updated Faust: The devil gambles in corporate shares and a poor-but-honest stockbroker sells his soul for a piece of a multimillion-dollar illusion.
Stone, who dedicated the movie to his late father, a stockbroker, started out with this well-worn theme, then created a new kind of villain, played wonderfully by Michael Douglas, for a new kind of generation, one exposed to the rise and fall of 'corporate raiders' who gamble millions on America's big and small corporations.
How these raiders -- some call them pirates -- operate is the background against which this film's Faust unfolds. It is a story almost everyone knows: Ambition battles morality, wins, then loses. In 'Wall Street,' redemption comes with a probable jail sentence on federal charges of securities fraud.
What makes 'Wall Street' a good film isn't that its release comes at a time when America's attention is riveted on fortunes that seem to be crumbling in the stock market crash of 1987. It's something much less timely, but truly timeless: the devil himself, recreated in 'Wall Street' as Gordon Gekko (Douglas), suave, sophisticated, smart, cynical, ruthless and heartless.
For different reasons, two young people, both talented and both insecure, are drawn to Gekko. The beautiful decorator, played by Daryl Hannah, owes her career to Gekko but is afraid to cross him because she's afraid what life without money would be like. Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, is the smart young stockbroker who believes he can be a little dishonest as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.
Fox fights to be noticed by Gekko, and when he wins his attention, learns that further favors require that Fox get prized information - anyway he can. Such information is the basis on which big deals are made. Fox wavers only a moment before deciding that the ends will justify the means, and he begins a skyrocketing career that makes him enough money to buy the kind of upscale life you see on 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.'
The deal that turns it all sour, however, is the one in which Fox helps Gekko take over the airline at which Fox's father, played by Sheen's real-life father, Martin Sheen, has worked for 24 years. Gekko, true to form, lies about his intentions for the firm, and the young Fox finally sees that he may cause the demise of the firm and lose the respect of his father as well.
The conflict may be familiar, but Stone brings the mystery of Wall Street's heros and villains, its big-stakes players and two-bit salesmen into sharp focus. It's a look that is both exhilarating and astounding.
Yet what's most astounding about 'Wall Street' is the pure magic of Douglas's villainy. At the heart of the film is a speech Gekko gives at a shareholders meeting of the mythical corporation, Teldar Paper. The speech was based on one given by real-life corporate raider Ivan Boesky, now barred from trading in the securities industry in this country.
'The point is, ladies and gentlemen, greed is good. Greed works. Greed is right. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all its forms, greed for life, money, love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, mark my words, will save not only Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.'
The words are delivered with such cynical force, it could lure the angels into a hostile takeover of heaven. Only a great actor could make you wonder -- just for a moment, as Bud Fox does -- if a little greed might not be OK after all, especially if it can buy the right to one day live out your more honest dreams.
To its credit, 'Wall Street' doesn't end with simple redemption. But for all its updates and twists on an old theme, it is the devil himself -- unapologetic and evil -- that you remember best about this Wall Street Faust.
This film is rated R. Movie contains strong language and nudity.
EMPIRE OF THE SUN -- Steven Spielberg's new film is gigantic, filled with the grandeur of the Orient and the fury of worlds at war, seen through the wide-open eyes of an 11-year-old child, played by Christian Bale. He once again proves his skill at directing films whose heroes are vulnerable but gritty children. The trouble with 'Empire of the Sun' is not in its grand vision, or poignant drama or childlike point of view. What seems to go wrong is that, like a child, the film just keeps rambling along from one incident to another. Also starring John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano and Miranda Richardson. Rated PG. PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES -- Directed by John Hughes and starring Steve Martin and John Candy, two of the funniest men in American comedy, the film barrels along with a bumbling zeal, but it's comedy at its most predictable. The main characters are meant to be the kind of odd couple who wind up liking one another just because they are so different, and learn something truly valuable from each other. Instead, as played by Martin and Candy, the marketing executive and traveling salesman are just two nuts who get stuck together, and their lack of spark as a comedy team makes the sticky sweet ending even less likely. But there are moments in this road movie that are too irresistible to hate, no matter how obvious. Rated R.
-- A powerful drama about a woman who's unafraid of every truth except the deepest, most troubling truth about herself, this film is based on the play by Tom Topor, directed by Martin Ritt ('Hud,' 'Norma Rae,' 'Murphy's Romance') and stars a veteran cast led by Barbra Streisand. Nevertheless, 'Nuts' never equals the sum of its parts. There's never a doubt the moxie lady-of-the-night at the center of the film is anything but sane, and it takes a good deal of the edge off the movie. Rated R. SIESTA -- This new film by music video director Mary Lambert features an all-star cast including Ellen Barkin, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Jones, Jodie Foster, Julian Sands and Gabriel Byrne. Music is by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. But though the images are bold, and the feeling surreal, there's little of this elongated death scene you care to remember. Rated R. MADE IN HEAVEN -- It shouldn't work, this movie about reincarnation, true love and angels. It ignores all logic in favor of allusion, trick photography and the earnest work of its hard-working stars: Timothy Hutton, Kelly McGillis, Maureen Stapleton. But work it does, in the same way as Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life.' Directed by Alan Rudolph. Rated PG. THE HIDDEN -- Taking the best of recent sci-fi, action and cop films, this movie adds a new twist, throws in a demonic dog and comes up with some entertaining -- and scary -- fare. Directed by Jack Sholder ('A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge'), it stars Michael Nouri and Kyle MacLachlan as a human-alien cop team tracking down a particularly vicious alien villain. It's hard not to like 'The Hidden.' It's rowdy, a little obnoxious, sometimes too self-conscious, but always clever. Rated R. THE SICILIAN -- This latest movie by director Michael Cimino ('The Deer Hunter,' 'Heaven's Gate') is breathtakingly beautiful, but a mess. Based on the story -- and legend -- of Salvatore Giuliano, 'The Sicilian' tries to be earnest and ends up being ridiculous. It's badly directed, badly written and badly acted. Starring are Christopher Lambert, Terence Stamp, John Turturro, Richard Bauer and Giulia Boschi, and based on the book of the same name by Mario Puzo. Rated R. BABY BOOM -- Starring Diane Keaton as the business lioness ready to do battle with corporate America and diaper changes, 'Baby Boom' takes a cockeyed look at the frequently cockeyed world of the single parent. Directed by Charles Shyer -- who with his wife, Nancy Meyers, also wrote the script -- it's a ditzy comedy that also manages to make a good point about the cruel choices people are forced to make. Keaton is a fine comic actress who combines physical humor with great intensity. Rated PG.