Happy Valentine’s Day. Nothing says romance like a movie review of a film about Wall Street. On the weekends, instead of writing riveting articles about investing, I figured I would lighten it up a little bit, and write reviews of some of my favorite investing related books and movies. What better way to start than one of my absolute favorite movie about Wall Street—Wall Street?
The movie follows Buddy (Charlie Sheen—when he was still likable and before he was living with porn stars) as a young and hungry broker on Wall Street with blue-collar roots, his dad (Martin Sheen—Charlie’s father in real life) being a union mechanic for the airlines. He lives in a cheap apartment and has a crappy job cold-calling people trying to sell them equally crappy stocks. He wants to be a player, and he gets his chance when he finagles a meeting with Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), a major Wall Street titan.
Buddy almost blows it when he invests Gecko’s money in “dogshit stocks [he] spent all night researching” and only redeems himself when he starts trading him inside information he got from his mechanic father. Buddy’s fortunes improve as he gets a better office, a hot girlfriend (Daryl Hannah), and a sweet apartment; but these all come at the cost of Buddy descending further into illegality with increasingly brazen acts of insider trading.
Ultimately Gecko, with Buddy by his side, decides to take over Buddy’s dad’s airline with the intention of selling it off piece by piece, something that would lead to Buddy’s dad and all his coworkers losing their jobs. In a crisis of confidence Buddy defects, turns himself in to the Feds, and then wears a wire to take Gecko down.
The movie does a great job of depicting what I imagine life is like on Wall Street. You have a ton of ambitious kids dying to make it big, vying to become masters of the universe. So many of my business school friends said the movie did a good job of capturing the spirit-crushing nature of life when you’re just starting out. Of the thousands that enter the game, only a very few make it, but man do they ever make it. You’re living a life of penthouse apartments, beach houses, private jets, posh restaurants, and even the occasional blow job from a high-priced call girl (when it was still shocking to show such things, as opposed to today when oral sex makes its rounds on network TV during prime time).
The cast is a real tour de force. It’s packed with stars who were huge at the time and others who would become huge. Obviously Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Daryl Hannah were A-listers. You had Charlie Sheen as a budding star and a young James Spader as well as John McGilney playing a hilariously crass stock broker in one of his first roles. Plus there were some Hollywood veterans who turned in really great performances like Terrance Stamp and Sylvia Miles, whose cameo as a New York realtor is pitch-perfect.
But the movie totally belongs to Michael Douglas for his portrayal of Gordon Gecko. It’s far and away the best of the movie and an absolute performance for the ages. He deservedly won the Academy Award for best actor and his character has come to epitomize all the bad things about Wall Street.
We first meet him cutting deals on a conference call (back when being on a conference call was a pretty big deal), shredding his birthday cards, and checking his blood pressure between drags of a cigarette. His hair is slicked back, he wears suspenders, orders off the menu, and of course gets around in either a limousine or a private jet. I mean, the man is cutting deals on Hong Kong gold before the sun rises with a sweet cell phone the size of a brick. He’s a total stud—he knows it and you know it.
About halfway through the movie, as he’s launching his hostile takeover of Teldar Paper, he delivers his best line: “Greed is good” (2:39 is the money shot). It’s a bit of a rip off of a speech that Ivan Boskey gave in real-life for a commencement address at the University of California-Berkeley, but Gekko’s version is amazing none-the-less.
As films go, this one has taken on a bit of cult status. It wasn’t one of the top 10 highest grossing films of 1987 (Three Men and a Baby was #1, so there you go), but it has probably had some of the most staying power. When people think of what’s wrong with Wall Street, many go to this movie, Douglas’s role, and even that particular line: “Greed is good.” I totally recommend this movie and give it four stocky foxes.