For a film which, by most accounts, missed the mark so badly, “Wall Street” remains a great story of good versus evil, ideology versus the bottom line, all framed within a story of greed.
Eager young Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) curries favor with and eventually breaches the inner circle of legendary corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). He gets money, a measure of fame, a trophy girlfriend and everything else he thought he wanted but loses himself and betrays family and friends to get there before turning it around on his mentor in one last grab for redemption.
That Oliver Stone’s cautionary tale of the dangerous seduction of Wall Street instead became a siren call to that world while his villain became more of an icon, speaks more to Douglas’ powerful performance than any real problem with the film. His iconic “greed is good” speech resonates with what the intervening years have shown us about Wall Street manipulators, but he never goes so far as to become a repugnant villain. He doesn’t say that greed is good because it’s great being rich. Instead, it trims the fat. The quest for profit drives people and leads to bigger and better things. Whether or not his character really believes that is irrelevant – he makes you think he does and that’s enough.
For tackling something as twisted and labyrinthine as the stock market, it does a great job of not losing the viewer. You may not understand the machinations of all of these trades but you know what’s going on – you can tell the good from the bad and at the end of the day you know exactly why people are doing what they’re doing. For a dated film, it also holds up really well – only gaining relevance as the years have passed.