Corruption, greed, excess, and big hair - it must be the '80s, and no film captures the "Me" era better than Oliver Stone's 'Wall Street.' Part morality tale, part old-fashioned thriller, and lorded over by Michael Douglas in a mustache-twirling performance as the ultimate '80s bad guy, 'Wall Street' is as near-perfect an indictment of the decade as ever put on film.
Fresh off his Oscar-winning success with 'Platoon,' Stone finds familiar dramatic territory in 'Wall Street,' trading the jungles of Vietnam for the urban jungle of New York. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is an ambitious young corporate raider who, like Sheen’s character in 'Platoon,' finds himself torn between two father figures. There's dear old pop (Martin Sheen), the faithful employee of a fading airline company, who believes in the tireless ethic of Old America -- work hard, tell the truth, and collect a big fat pension after forty years of labor. Then there’s Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the spawn of Reaganomics, who doesn't create companies but sure loves to wreck them and scoop up profits from dirty deals and insider trading. As Gekko declares in the film's most famous line, “Greed is good!” but is Bud willing to sell anything, including his soul, to succeed by Gekko’s philosophy?
Stone doesn't have a particularly original story to tell here, with the first half of 'Wall Street' playing out exactly as we expect. We watch (part in horror, part in envy) as Bud is seduced by the dark side, quickly ascending the ladder of excess, as Stone trots out endless (and endlessly entertaining) montages, guiding us through the canyons of “The Street” and around the stock exchange floors where the deals play out. All the while, Gekko is slowly and methodically destroying each of his young charge’s principles, and Stone delights in painting each stage of Bud’s story arc in big, bold letters to be sure that none of us miss the morality play at work. It's not subtle, but it's undeniably effective commercial cinema.
Despite its heavy handed techniques, 'Wall Street' paints a heightened, but still accurate portrait of the '80s landscape, with Douglas at its heart -- he's oily perfection as Gekko, utterly nailing the smarmy sarcasm and ruthless business ethics of the era. Douglas towers over ‘Wall Street,’ his presence casting a shadow across every scene, though he’s only on screen for less than half of the film. It's an iconic, now-classic performance for which Douglas took home an Oscar.
Of course, 'Wall Street' is still Bud Fox's movie, and for the third act Stone aims for redemption, choosing a finale straight out of Joseph Campbell's mythological-hero playbook. Many critics derided the film’s climactic descent into thriller cliches, and indeed it's all rather pat, but really, what was the alternative? Have Gekko be the hero? Stone's good guy/bad guy set-up had only one possible conclusion, and the film’s greatest weakness is simply the result of the boxed in narrative he chose for the script
Despite the film’s drawbacks, Stone has never balanced his didactic and commercial filmmaking abilities as deftly as he does here, and after twenty years, that's still what makes 'Wall Street' so much fun. Add to that the strong performances (not only by Douglas, but the underrated turns by both Sheens), a nice eye for period detail, snappy pacing, and enough classic lines to fill ten other flicks, and 'Wall Street' remains one of Stone's most satisfying efforts.
Fox recently remastered 'Wall Street' for a 20th anniversary DVD that was released last year, and this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (at 1.85:1, though mislabeled on the back packaging as 2.35:1) is minted from the same source. Unfortunately, it's not a great upgrade, and there wasn’t a single moment that made me think I was watching more than a good standard-def DVD.
The source is in good shape, with a few blemishes here or there, but overall it's clean. Grain is present, but it gives an appropriate film-like veneer and it's never excessive. Colors don't appear particularly vibrant, and flesh tones veer towards the red, giving everyone a slight pig-face look. Black levels never seem particularly deep and contrast is a bit flat, though both remain consistent. Ditto for apparent detail and depth, as the image looks entirely two-dimensional and soft. Shadow delineation doesn't offer much either, with most fine details a bit murky. At least the encode is clean, and there are no major artifacts, but don't expect much from 'Wall Street,' which is certainly one of the weakest catalog efforts I've seen yet from Fox.
The box says there’s a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track on the disc, but quite frankly, it sounds like a stereo track. This is about as bland as a 1987 film can sound.
Surround use is just about nil. I can't recall a single, truly discrete effect emanating from the rears. Minor ambiance is just that -- minor. Score bleed isn't any better, with the vast majority of the mix directed to the fronts. Stereo separation is perfectly fine, and dialogue is generally directed to the center, but it all sounds like sonic mush, and none of the elements stand out in the mix. Dynamic range is passable, but flat -- don't expect much in the way of pronounced bass or rich, warm high-end. Dialogue is understandable and doesn’t have any volume balance issues, but that's about the biggest compliment I can pay to this track -- it's as bland as styrofoam.
Eschewing its usual bare-bones approach to catalog releases on Blu-ray, Fox has ported over all of the goodies from two previous DVD editions of 'Wall Street.' The first was produced in 2000 (and contained an audio commentary and documentary), while the second came out last year, and featured a new documentary and some deleted scenes. Combined, it's a very nice package, and certainly the highlight of this set. (Unfortunately, though the new documentary material from the latest DVD was shot on HD and composed at 1.78:1, Fox presents it here in 480i/MPEG-2 video only. The studio has also not provided any subtitle options for any of the extras.)
Some elements of 'Wall Street' are dated, but it holds up as a compelling and thematically relevant exploration of rampant greed in today's anything-for-a-buck corporate culture. It also boasts first-rate performances from Charlie and Martin Sheen, as well as Oscar-winner Michael Douglas. This Blu-ray release is a mixed bag, with video and audio that simply don’t offer much of an upgrade over the standard DVD, though the extras are certainly nice. This is worth picking up for newbies, but if you already own the previous DVD don't expect much bang for the buck.