A Classic Depiction of Stock Trading With Unexpected Complexity
The Original Wall Street Movie
There is not shortage of financial trading movies out there, with classics ranging from the British Rogue Trader to Trading Places, Boiler Room, and even the successor to today’s film in question, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. But let’s not forget that before DiCaprio assumed the role of Jordan Belfort, chugging Quaaludes and earning his fortune through penny stocks in The Wolf of Wall Street, there was Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). These two characters form the central pillar of Wall Street, often regarded by many as the one of the best all-round take on the financial services/trading industry that Hollywood has ever seen.
The central premise of the film isn’t a particularly original one, yet the film has still managed to become what is considered the pinnacle of cinematic exploration of the economic and moral corruption of Wall Street still outshining more modern films in the same light explored at fatcattrading.co.uk. Douglas stars as the iconic Gordon Gekko (whose name is even lizard-like in meaning and sound), a millionaire corporate raider who at the film’s outset is already neck-deep in the kind of cutthroat moral ambiguity and line-crossing that the dark side of the industry is portrayed as viewing as something that can be aspired to.
The film’s main vehicle for its moral exploration of Wall Street and capitalism in general, begins with Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a young account executive with wild ambitions of mingling with the upper echelons of the financial trading industry. Fox aspires to earn millions and all the peripheral perks that come with being a successful financial trader. Naturally, Fox’s introduction to Gekko and the development of their relationship is the conduit that allows for the exploration of morality, corruption, and (to an extent) redemption, all of which make this original a much more rewarding experience than the Wall Street sequel. In order to remain “on the inside” with Gekko, Fox is pushed into engaging in more ethically-questionable behaviours, crossing line after line in order to enable Gekko to continue his illegal practices of insider trading and company takeovers.
Further moral complexity is also derived from the presence of Fox’s father Carl (played by Charlie Sheen’s actual father, Martin Sheen), whose profession as a salt-of-the-earth airline worker is at odds with the high-flying and eventually ethically-ambiguous aspirations of his son. In fact, the film reaches one of its final dramatic crescendos as a result of Gekko’s prospective takeover of the airline for which Fox’s father works.
A Stake in the Game
Forgetting for a minute the reasonably substantial weight of positive reviews that this film has garnered over the years (Roger Ebert gave the film a 3.5 out of 4), as well as the 78% Rotten Tomato rating and more-than respectable 7.4/10 on IMDB. This isn’t the be-all and end-all for this film’s merit. In fact, it isn’t a film that has accrued overwhelming critical merit, when compared films such as The Wolf of Wall Street, for example.
However, the magnificent Oliver Stone (director of masterpieces such as Platoon) weaves in his own perspective on the questionable (to say the least) moral practices and standings of those who work in Wall Street, and particularly those in the profession at what some would call the height of its presence in public consciousness (and on the silver screen).
It is no accident that the film covers with admirable depth the moral ins and outs of not just the financial markets-related professions, but also the wider merits and pitfalls of capitalism as a political, moral, and financial system. Neither is it simply a result of random figment of Stone’s imagination that main characters Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox become intertwined in their professional ambitions, working side by side with strong drinks in hand and cigarettes burning in boardrooms and corporate offices. Nor is it just chance that the film culminates in a dramatic moral conundrum for Fox when Gekko plans to muscle in on the airline for which his father works. Stone’s father was a Wall-Street trader at the time of the Great Depression; this personal stake in the proceedings certainly shines through in Stone’s directing.
A Moral Exploration
The wider moral exploration of capitalism and the morality surrounding what some argue to be the greatest financial and indeed political system ever envisaged by man, is best represented by an excerpt from one of Gordon Gecko’s charged speeches in the film, made to an audience listening on in silence:
“Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit”.
Gekko’s speech, which cuts through to the main moral thrust of Wall Street as a film overall, has even more significance when viewed through the lens of the 2007/2008 global financial crisis, perhaps mirroring the mindset of those who were at the heart of its cause.
Despite the poignancy of Wall Street’s moral journey through trading and capitalism, the film, as a piece of drama, isn’t a home-run from beginning to end. However, its exposure and relatively stark scenes depicting the inner workings of the financial trading industry, as well as the criminal behaviour once (and still) so common within it, has certainly cemented Wall Street’s place in Hollywood history.