Barry Wetcher /Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) mentors young Wall Street trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, another in Hollywood's long line of unfriendly films about high finance.
It's a great come-on: Gordon Gekko in the ads for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, purring his old "Greed is good" catchline, then adding the kicker, "Now it seems it's legal." Captures the zeitgeist, no? Almost makes you forget how overblown that first movie was.
Gekko, of course, was conceived as a dyed-in-the-wool creep, and his return to the multiplex after almost two decades set me to thinking about how screenwriters have treated the brokers, arbitragers, and other Wall St. moneymeisters who handle their fortunes.
Not well, as it turns out — they must've lost their Hollywood clients a bundle. Is there a profession more reviled in Hollywood? Hookers are given hearts of gold, lawyers can be crusading. Hell, even drug dealers get the girl. But brokers. Nope.
In fact, when Guy Raz and I started brainstorming a chat on this topic, we had trouble coming up with any affirmative portraits of brokers at all. Documentaries (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Inside Job) mostly depict Wall St. types as craven; dramas make them manipulative (Wall Street), dishonest (Boiler Room), and occasionally even knife-wielding (American Psycho); and comedies (Trading Places, Working Girl) seem to see them as ready-made villains.
Yes, I hear you screaming...Will Smith tugged heartstrings in Pursuit of Happyness, but the picture pictured him when he was still a broker-in-training, not after he'd made his gazillions.
Interestingly, we didn't find many stockbrokers in movies before about 1980. You'd think they'd've been in lots of Depression-era flicks, but back in the 1930s, the public's anger was targeted at bankers, not brokers, maybe because ordinary Joes and Janes didn't buy stocks back then. Wall Street's collapse may have started the mess, but movie audiences were mad at the guy at the bank — think Mr. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life — who still wore flashy suits but said he couldn't give them back their life savings.
Flash forward to the 1980s ... pension plans going the way of the dodo, more people diversifying their IRA's and 401k's to include stock in their retirement portfolios, and occasionally losing money when the DOW goes down, and suddenly brokers start showing up as movie villains. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but ... well, I'm just sayin'.