Thursday, January 13, 2011

WALL STREET: Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1987) Fox Home Video

Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) examines the cold, calculating underbelly of corporate America’s spurious market trading practices in the 'win/win' eighties; perhaps the best film made about business - save director Robert Wise's Executive Suite (1954, and a personal favourite of Stone's). An homage to his own father’s request for a ‘good’ movie about business (Stone’s dad was himself a corporate trader on that famed thoroughfare), Wall Street is part ruthless investigation and melodrama/part message picture about the human price paid for big financial gains at the expense of corporate conglomeration.

In hindsight, all the pieces fit nicely into Stone’s grand plan. But in 1987, nothing had been for certain – least of all Stone’s choice of Michael Douglas to play Gordon Gekko; the antagonist cutthroat who seduces a young eager trader, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) to the dark side of that ‘go anywhere/steal anything’ acumen that ultimately became the film’s tagline “Greed is good.” To date, Douglas had done well on television and film, playing variations of the wholesome ‘good’ guy. But in Wall Street the actor showed an entirely different side to his acting chops.

We first meet Gekko through the rose coloured glasses of Bud Fox, an ambitious trader who is tired of slogging it out in the bowels of the business world. To Fox, Gekko is a golden boy – untouchable, proficient and a wily genius of the board room. With little to say and even less to offer, Fox finagles his way into fifteen minutes of gutless gab inside Gekko’s New York God spot. He is admonished, dismissed, then resurrected from oblivion by Gekko’s desire to plant a fresh face – and possibly ‘talent’ – amidst his biggest enemies. After a few spurious inside trades, Fox does indeed earn Gekko’s respect. But it also places him in the precarious position of being exposed for illegal trades should Gekko decide that Fox has become expendable.

Meanwhile, Fox’s father, Carl (Martin Sheen), advises against Bud’s further involvement in Gekko’s plan to take over a local airline. Carl is the teamster’s negotiator. He provides Bud with informal, though nevertheless, inside information on the company’s future. For Bud, the carrot of opportunity has been dangled too closely to the rabbit. He betrays his dad to help turn a tidy profit for Gekko instead. But Bud’s world – private and public is about to get a reality check.

Director Stone was granted permission to shoot several key sequences on the floor of the actual stock exchange during business hours, using real traders as his supporting cast. Timed perfectly to coincide with the ‘80s rise in white collar crime, in retrospect the film is a personal reflection on how far corporate America had strayed from its founding roots into the ‘new economy’; a pyramid scheme where companies are no longer created, but instead bought and sold by hidden interests that neither share nor look to produce anything that doesn't first bow to the almighty bottom line.

The screenplay, written by Stone and Stanley Weiser both exposes and balances that struggle between the grand old men of integrity (best personified by Bud’s laconic former boss, Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) and his father, Carl, and, that new wave of raiders, traders and traitors to U.S. business interests – brilliantly embodied in Michael Douglas’ total emotional void and shark-like precision as Gordon Gekko. Today, it is impossible to think of anyone else playing that role, but in 1987 the studio was pushing for Warren Beatty, while Stone had initially pinned his hopes on landing Richard Gere for the part.

If the film has a flaw, it remains the awkward casting of Darryl Hannah as Darien Taylor; Gekko’s sideline fling who finds Bud attractive but cannot justify her own need for material goods against the love of a man who truly cares for her. In the script Darien is just as cold, manipulative and absent of scruples as Gekko – character traits that clashed with Hannah’s interpretation of the part. What emerges instead from her performance is a rather unstable waif-like kitten trapped in a vixen’s body, resulting in an unconvincing performance that fails to hold up under more careful consideration.

Viewed today, Wall Street seems to have dated more than most films of its vintage, particularly in the shadow of our current recession ridden economy: less certain than stable and more driven by mere sustainability these days than the 80s’ ravenous need to consume every and anything for mere pure profit. Nevertheless, as a time capsule of where the head of business was at that time, Wall Street remains compelling entertainment, fuelled with consummate professionalism both in front of and behind the camera.

Fox Home Video’s Blu-Ray Anniversary edition greatly improves on the image quality put forth on their 20th Anniversary DVD - released the year before. On home video Wall Street has always retained a rather thick visual characteristic with a flawed hazy patina of muddy colors and lower-than-average contrast levels that make for quite a dark visual presentation. The Blu-Ray's refinement of fine details and its additional - if subtle - pop of colours is therefore most welcome. Flesh tones retain their ruddy orange complexion. But film grain that appeared digitally harsh and gritty on the DVD is now naturally realized for what it is.

Minor video noise evident on the DVD has also been minimized, though not eradicated on the Blu-Ray. The audio is 5.1 and appropriately dated. The score is the real benefactor, but dialogue continues to sound manufactured and oddly strident.

Stone provides a comprehensive, if sometimes rambling, audio commentary throughout the film that is almost as compelling as the film itself. Several featurettes with vintage and new interviews from cast and crew as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer are all direct imports from the DVD. Save D-Box navigation, there is nothing new by way of extras to recommend this reissue.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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