Money Still Talks On 'Wall Street'
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
The most enduring phrase of the go-go '80s may well be: greed is good. And the most enduring personification of all that good greed is Gordon Gekko, the character portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film "Wall Street."
(Soundbite of movie, "Wall Street")
Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Gordon Gekko) See that building? I bought that building 10 years ago - my first real estate deal. Sold it two years later; made an $800,000 profit. It was better than sex. That time I thought that was all the money in the world. Now it's a day's pay.
KELLY: All that wheeling and dealing landed Gordon Gekko in prison. Now he's back in the sequel, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," which takes place in the year leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown.
Our friend in the business world, Joe Nocera, has seen both films and he's with us now in our New York bureau. Good morning, Joe.
Mr. JOE NOCERA (Columnist, New York Times): Good morning. How are you?
KELLY: We're great down here, thanks. So the original "Wall Street" movie tapped right into that zeitgeist, the financial excesses of the 1980s. Does the sequel do the same thing for Wall Street circa 2008?
Mr. NOCERA: I don't really think it does. You know, the first movie was about hostile takeovers and it was about insider trading, which are actually pretty easy to convey on a screen, as it turns out. And the new movie, it was almost as if Oliver Stone was a little intimidated by credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. And indeed, he told me in a conversation I had with him a few weeks ago that, he said: I just dont know how you put this on a screen.
And so, as a result, the plot of the movie seems almost beside the point. And all the stuff, which I view as very dramatic, that leads to the financial crisis kind of takes place offstage. So you kind of miss the essential drama of the crisis.
KELLY: Well, do you think Oliver Stone has a point? You know, we hear so much about these buzzwords of this particular crisis - credit default swaps - I mean it's not the stuff of a screenwriter's dream.
Mr. NOCERA: No, it - that is very true. However, think about what was happening in the run-up to the crisis. I mean Wall Street traders were basically selling investors down the river, lying to them about what was in their collateral, in the things that they were buying. I mean, there's drama in there. And then, when you get closer to September 2008, you have these firms - one after another - worrying about whether they're going to survive.
And it turns out, some of the reasons (unintelligible) Lehman Brothers didnt survive is because they had done so much greedy stuff, really - there's a word Oliver Stone, I think - that's a technical term - that you dont really feel sorry for them in the end.
So I actually do think one could have done a movie about that. He chose not to. When you go back and watch the 1987 movie here in 2010, you think, oh my God, he really captured that era. And in this movie, when you watch it, you dont have that same thought. You think this is a movie with Wall Street as a backdrop, but it's not really a movie that captures what happened in 2007, 2008 the way the '87 movie did.
KELLY: Let me ask you how the main character, Gordon Gekko, fares. In the original movie he was the biggest bull on Wall Street. In the sequel he's on TV pitching his book "Is Greed Good?" Let me play you a bit where he gets asked about that.
(Soundbite of movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps")
Unidentified Man: You know, I saw you on television the other night. You were quite the bear. And be careful, you know, your daughter's financial health is now in our hands.
Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Gordon Gekko) So it is.
Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Yeah.
Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) So it is. (Unintelligible) crap the way you keep buying it. Raise insurance swaps lately? I mean I got to worry about my grandchildren's college education.
KELLY: Is there a message in this movie, in the way that the original movie was very much a cautionary tale about greed and excess? Gordon Gekko was very greedy. He ends up in prison at the end of it. Do the characters here get a comeuppance in that same way?
Mr. NOCERA: They really dont. And this movie is really not trying to convey message the same way the original one was. Stone has said to me and to others that, you know, he was just trying to tell a story about people. And whether you believe he succeeds or not, that is fundamentally what he has tried to do.
They go through various life crises and this and that, but the ultimate story of, you know, whether a firm deserves to live or die, whether Wall Street did things that were terrible for which a price should be paid, whether people need to go to jail - none of that is in the movie. And the whole comeuppance aspect or the message aspect, I think, is pretty muddled and more or less missing from this movie.
KELLY: Thats Joe Nocera. He writes the Talking Business column for The New York Times. And he joined us from our studios in New York.
Mr. NOCERA: Thanks so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.