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 five 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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
First released on Blu-ray in 2008, Fox presents this new re-release of 'Wall Street' as part of their "Filmmakers Signature Series." The BD-50 disc is packaged in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. A nice 28-page booklet is included that offers some details on the film's production along with cast & director profiles. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While I don't have the previous release to make direct comparisons to, it's my understanding that this is indeed a new transfer, and the packaging indicates that it has been approved by Oliver Stone himself. Though the movie has an inherently gritty and dull quality, this is a seemingly authentic and respectful presentation.
The source print is in fantastic shape with only a few fleeting specks here and there. A moderate to heavy layer of natural grain is present throughout, giving the image some welcome texture. Clarity is solid, and fine details are nicely rendered (particularly the patterns and textures on the characters' ties and suits). With that said, the picture does have a comparatively soft and at times fuzzy quality, but this all seems to be in line with the movie's original photography. Colors are rather drab and faded, and there is never any substantial sense of pop or dimension. Whites are nicely balanced, but black levels often appear slightly milky in appearance, leading to occasionally murky shadow detail.
The various strengths and weaknesses of the image all seem to be inherent to the source, and this appears to be an authentic representation of how the movie is supposed to look. The image isn't exactly impressive by conventional standards, but the picture is free of any unnecessary processing.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Again, I don't have the previous disc to compare to, so I'm not sure if this is the same mix found on that release. With that said, I found the audio to be decent regardless, and while front-loaded, the track suits the film just fine.
Dialogue is clean, clear and easily heard throughout. The soundstage is comparatively small, but effects and score are still spread nicely throughout the front three speakers. Directionality and imaging are solid, with some decent atmospheric effects (city traffic) and smooth audio pans when appropriate (a carriage driving by, for instance). Outside of a few key instances (a flying plane, for example) surround activity is sparse and mostly relegated to music cues and faint echoes of ambiance. The hectic, stressful bustle of the stock exchange and office setting are somewhat conveyed, but again, surround use is restricted, limiting the film's sense of immersion. Dynamic range is on the flat side (though it does perk up during the film's climax) and bass activity is notably restrained.
'Wall Street' doesn't have a particularly enveloping track, but the audio comes through with solid fidelity. Surround activity is limited, but the front soundstage carries a decent sense of space and atmosphere.
Fox has ported over all of the supplements from the previous release (minus the trailers) and has included one new, sadly useless featurette (previously available on the film's 2010 DVD release). All of the special features are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and oddly it appears that only Chinese subtitles are available.
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 new "Filmmakers Signature Series" release features a director approved video transfer that appears to offer a solid upgrade over the previous lackluster disc. While the audio is most likely the same mix from the last disc, I actually found it to be a decent track that suits the movie just fine. All of the previous supplements are ported over for this release, but the only new featurette is unfortunately worthless. For those who don't already own 'Wall Street,' this disc gets my recommendation, and even those who already have the 2008 release should consider double dipping for the improved video transfer.