“It’s one of those movies that I know about, but I’ve never actually seen” – everybody in the world, including me, when talking about Oliver Stone’s enduring 1987 film Wall Street. So Kevin decided to fix that for us.
Before the film, I pulled out a somewhat-related short: Money Talks, an MST3K short featuring the creepy shadow of Benjamin Franklin:
Oh, if only Gordon Gekko had said, “C’mon boy, jump on my stomach!”
Meet Bud Fox. Bud Fox is a completely undistinguished stockbroker, with a hunger for power and a thirst for cash – just like every other stockbroker on the floor. Basically, he’s a phone jockey who spends his day burning out his fluorescent green cones and dreaming of being a big-time player. Sure, he could have followed his father into the union shop at a small-time airline, but he’d rather read Fortune and dream of getting a Papalesque audience with his hero Gordon Gekko.
Meet Gordon Gekko. He’s a ruthless corporate raider, richer than Croesus – but count no man happy before the SEC fully investigates him. For 59 days his secretary has completely ignored Bud’s cold calls, but when Bud shows up on Gekko’s birthday with some contraband Cuban cigars, well that’ll buy you three minutes with the most important man in New York.
Bud, like an idiot, tries to push random stocks on him. Gekko is just about to give his security guards the good old Colosseum Thumbs Down when Bud goes for broke – which he should have done to start with. He drops some insider info gleaned from his father about an upcoming favorable ruling by the FAA regarding a crash at his airline – a ruling which will result in a major expansion. Now that – that could be worthwhile. Gekko buys in.
Of course, Bud is naïve enough to think that he had gotten himself in – but of course that’s not the case. Gekko points out that unless Bud has more useful inside info, there’s not much of a point in continuing the relationship – unless Bud is willing to completely throw his morals out the window. Bud likes money, so guess what decision he makes?
If you said he goes into full on espionage mode to figure out what one of Gekko’s rivals, Larry Wildman, is up to, you win 100 shares of stock from Microsoft’s IPO. It turns out that Wildman is after a steel company which he desperately wants to rehabilitate. Gekko leverages the stock and squeezes millions of dollars out of the extremely non-plussed Wildman.
As a side benefit of selling his soul to Gekko, Bud makes it big. He gets a big penthouse apartment, he not only keeps his job at his firm but gets a corner office, he gets Gekko’s cast off girlfriend Daryl Hannah before she apparently developed acromegaly…everything is pretty darn good. Mostly.
You see, Bud’s father’s airline has fallen into some trouble, and Bud wants Gekko to bail it out. Note: This is not what Gekko does, and Bud should have figured it out by now. So when Gekko gets labor on board with a hostile takeover (with only the uncorruptible knight in shining armor Martin Sheen – so convincingly playing Charlie Sheen’s father – opposed) he’s doing it just to rip the company apart and sell it piecemeal. Naturally, Bud finally figures this out and develops a belated sense of morality Throwing away all of his ill-gotten booty, he devises a plan to manipulate the stock price of the airline, which not only causes Gekko to lose millions of dollars and bail out of the deal, but also allows Larry Wildman to step in and actually try to save the company.
Then, of course, Bud gets nailed in an SEC raid, turns state’s evidence, and wearing a wire, gets a confession out of Gekko. The end.
I’m a bit less than hot on the film. For one thing, well, financial stuff just always makes my eyes glaze over. I’m really hard-pressed to care. I mean, sure, I like having money and everything, but once you start talking about markets and stocks and 401Ks and PE ratios and whatever, I retreat into a corner of my mind and imagine watching sports. So it’s a bit hard for me to tell whether the relentless financial mumbo-jumbo being thrown at the viewer is just completely irrelevant to the story, or if I just couldn’t follow it. But even if there was a point to it, there’s still the seminal speech by Gekko – the speech which convinces the stockholders of a paper company to agree to a hostile takeover – which ends like this:
I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
I mean, is that at all convincing? I can see how he’s trying to go all Randian there, but when a guy stands up and says, “Hey, I’m greedy, let me take over your company!” does that really make you want to sell?
The other thing is that it is often couched as being still oh-so-relevant to today’s world. I don’t know. I mean, I try to ignore that kind of stuff, but do we really live a Grand New Age of Corporate Raiding? I mean, this movie taught me that being a stockbroker would probably really really suck, but I’m not sure it taught me any outstanding moral lesson that I didn’t already know.