Even Away From 'Wall Street,' Hollywood Gives Little Love To Stockbrokers Film critic Bob Mondello says that even aside from Michael Douglas' iconic character Gordon Gekko, Hollywood has rarely found any sympathy in its heart for stockbrokers and other high-finance professionals.
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Even Away From 'Wall Street,' Hollywood Gives Little Love To Stockbrokers

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Even Away From 'Wall Street,' Hollywood Gives Little Love To Stockbrokers

Even Away From 'Wall Street,' Hollywood Gives Little Love To Stockbrokers

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GUY RAZ, host:

In the mid-1980s, Oliver Stone wrote a line in a script that came to define the decade. And the line was this.

(Soundbite of movie, "Wall Street")

Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Gordon Gekko) Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.

RAZ: Greed is good. That phrase practically symbolized the excess and abuse on Wall Street. And Michael Douglas' role as the rogue trader Gordon Gekko captured a type of personality that was very real.

Gekko spent some time in jail - hopefully he became reformed - and he's now back in business, back on the Street in Oliver Stone's sequel to "Wall Street." This one's called "Money Never Sleeps."

(Soundbite of movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps")

Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) Well, you know what they say, bulls make money, bears make money, the pigs, they get slaughtered.

RAZ: Not such a subtle message there from Mr. Stone, Bob?

BOB MONDELLO: It's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's our film critic Bob Mondello.

Bob, does Gordon Gekko's character hold up after all these years?

MONDELLO: Oh, yeah. The character does. I don't think this new movie can hold a candle to the old one, which I didn't like that much to begin with. But, yeah, the character is still really compelling. As you watch him, he's just what you remember.

RAZ: I remember reading an interview with Oliver Stone and he talked about how he was disappointed that when "Wall Street" came out, the idea was, of course, to portray these characters as evil.


RAZ: That Gordon Gekko actually became a model for a lot of Wall Street traders.

MONDELLO: Yeah. It's hard to say what drives people. I think people remember evil characters because they are vivid onscreen. And sometimes you really get to like the - I mean, Darth Vader is an example, right?

RAZ: Yeah.

MONDELLO: He's a neat evil character.

RAZ: And a lot of kids dress up as Darth Vader on Halloween.

MONDELLO: Exactly. Exactly. But I don't think we want people to be like Gordon Gekko.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Here's a question I've been wondering for a while, Bob. Has Wall Street ever come out looking good on film?

MONDELLO: I'm glad you asked that because I've been wondering the same thing. I started doing research for this, and I look back on a lot of pictures. If you look at, say, "Boiler Room," Giovanni Ribisi tries to get a gig with a brokerage firm, and the brokerage firm turns out to be a sham and basically he gets wrapped up in all sorts of...

RAZ: (Unintelligible) that movie, by the way?

MONDELLO: Not very many.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: A lot of people saw "Trading Places."

RAZ: Oh, yes. Great movie.

MONDELLO: Right. You have Eddie Murphy trading places with a guy who's in a brokerage firm played by Dan Aykroyd.

(Soundbite of movie, "Trading Places")

Mr. DAN AYKROYD (Actor): (as Louis Winthorpe III) In this building, it's either kill or be killed. You make no friends in the pits and you take no prisoners. One minute you're up half a million in soybeans and the next, boom, your kids don't go to college and they've repossessed your Bentley. Are you with me?

Mr. EDDIE MURPHY (Actor): (as Billy Ray Valentine) Yeah, we got to kill them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: It was a great picture.

RAZ: It was a great film.

MONDELLO: This is not a friendly - I mean, you know, it's...

RAZ: No.

MONDELLO: ...competitive and all. Or think "American Psycho."

RAZ: Oh, yeah.

MONDELLO: I mean, the dude is crazy and he's a broker on Wall Street.

(Soundbite of movie, "American Psycho")

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE (Actor): (as Patrick Bateman) And though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.

RAZ: Christian Bale is so creepy.

MONDELLO: Isn't that creepy? That's a broker. Do you want to have anything to do with him?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: No. Well, he is a broker and murderer. But - and I guess Hollywood doesn't really know which one's worse.

MONDELLO: It does feel that way sometimes, doesn't it?

RAZ: But there was that film the "Pursuit of Happyness," right, with Will Smith. He was a good guy.

MONDELLO: I'll give you that he was a good guy, but he was a broker in training. This is before he made his gazillions.

RAZ: Now, we seem to be talking a lot about recent films. Does this stretch back even further? Is the anti-Wall Street thing in Hollywood fairly recent?

MONDELLO: Very recent. Actually, I thought, logically speaking, that since there was a Wall Street crash in 1929, you'd find a whole bunch of brokers in stories in the '30s, right?

RAZ: Yeah, right.

MONDELLO: It just makes sense. When I started thinking about why there weren't, because there really weren't any stories, I realized that back then, the average moviegoer didn't invest in Wall Street.

RAZ: Ah, yeah.

MONDELLO: That was something that only the elites did. And so, as a practical matter, what people were angry at in the Great Depression was their banker who was not giving them back their own money.

RAZ: Which is where you get "It's a Wonderful Life."

MONDELLO: Exactly.

RAZ: Okay.

MONDELLO: And I think what happened was if you look at what happened after Vietnam, really, when pension plans started going away, you start having a lot of people investing their IRAs in stock portfolios. All of a sudden, there's more interest in brokers. So I think that the sweep of pictures with brokers as villains comes out of, I don't know, maybe even Hollywood screenwriters losing a lot of money on Wall Street and thinking, well, somebody's to blame for this.

RAZ: So I guess next to serial killers and Nazis, there isn't a profession that Hollywood likes less than bankers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: I suppose that's - it's pretty close to true. I was trying to think of logical things that they might like less like lawyers, but there's "Erin Brockovich," right? And hookers, but there's "Pretty Woman." And I'm sitting there thinking, well, maybe the answer is to have Julia Roberts play a stock broker.

RAZ: That's not a bad idea.

MONDELLO: Maybe that would rehabilitate the profession.

RAZ: Maybe. That's Bob Mondello. He reviews films for our program.

Bob, thank you so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

RAZ: And we want to know if you can come up with a film where stock brokers or commodities traders came across as the good guys. Join the conversation at npr.org.

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