“Greed Is Good” Turns 30

By Daniella Nichinson, Film Editor

Few films define the decadent decade of the 1980s as accurately and with such brutal honesty as Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” Not only did Stone introduce audiences to a name now synonymous with greed—Gordon Gekko—but he also crafted a film that captured the turbulence and consequences of the corrupt, cocaine-fueled world of finance. For two days only, “Wall Street” will return to theaters to mark the 30th anniversary of the ever-lastingly influential picture.

Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, a young and eager stockbroker, yet to be disillusioned by the dog-eat-dog system. He lives in a roach-infested, closet-sized Manhattan apartment and is at the bottom of the food chain, but he is determined to climb the ranks. Bud’s greatest aspiration is to work for the most powerful man on Wall Street: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Soon, however, he is forced to face the people he harms and take another look at his ardent desire to emulate Gekko.  

The tour de force of “Wall Street” is Michael Douglas’ performance as Gordon Gekko. A character who the audience would be inclined to see as reprehensible and vile is humanized and even portrayed as sympathetic, thanks to Douglas’ exceptional balance of sinister and charm. It isn’t only Gekko’s sheer charisma that elevates him to holy status, but also his defined appearance: the slicked-back hair, the sly grin and the finely-tailored suits all contribute to a man who is driven by sin. Gekko’s success and irresistibility as a villain is because he is a villain difficult to root against.

To create such a contradictory character, a film needs a formidable script. Stone and co-writer Stanley Weiser penned a screenplay that is just that—a timeless commentary on the nature of greed and the consequences of money. “Wall Street” snaps with quick dialogue, as fast-paced as the downtown streets of Manhattan. From quips like “If you need a friend get a dog” and that notorious “Greed is good” monologue, the film embeds itself in the history of ‘80s American culture, but is unaffected by the passing of time.

The enduring and attractive aspect of “Wall Street” is its portrayal of hedonism and excess. Though its extravagance is grounded in reality, the viewer can’t help to question the validity of it all. Gekko is meant to be a portrait of lust and malice in finance—a conglomerate of all its worst attributes—and through Gekko, the audience must determine the worth of money. Even Bud asks Gekko, “How much is enough?”

With “Wall Street,” Stone offered audiences a tantalizing glimpse into the high-stakes environment of stock-trading. The film is made tense, anxious and striking by Stone’s nimble hand for direction and his and Weiser’s blistering script. The triumph of the film, and the man who pulls the strings, is Gordon Gekko. The essence of the viewer’s fascination with his avarice lies in human nature: he forces the audience to consider their values and come to terms with their perceived morality. As “Wall Street” celebrates its 30th birthday, we must ask ourselves one question: how much has really changed?

“Wall Street” will play in select theaters on Sep. 24 and 27.

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