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  1. Top 20 Films about Finance: From Crisis to Con Men
  2. Forget Washington, forget Goldman: Our hero has global ambitions
  3. The serious business of literature
  4. Manual Moral Hazard - A Wall Street Thriller

It's sequel star Shia LeBeouf who insightfully makes the comparison to the title character in Scarface. So, like him or loathe him, Gordon Gekko is a character with a lot of meat on him, worthy of examination. It's especially interesting to hold Gekko up against the hedge-fund managers of , when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps takes place. In the spectrum of villainy, where does he fall, especially since the Street has gotten so much hungrier and greedier in his absence?

The only thing more fun that Gordon Gekko, Master of the Universe is Gordon Gekko the Underdog, trying to sleaze his way back to the top. There's just something humorous about seeing him ride the subway. Sure, Gekko is there, just released from prison and trying to break back into the game and mend relations with his daughter, liberal-blogger Winnie Carey Mulligan. This all happens on the fringes of the film.

Top 20 Films about Finance: From Crisis to Con Men

At the beginning of the movie, rumors of financial instability cause the collapse of the investment house where he works. Moore, who is engaged to Winnie, goes on a mission for revenge, leading him to Bretton James Josh Brolin , big shot at a rival house. James may have a Goya hanging in his office, and he may drive a Ducati, but he is no Gordon Gekko.

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Maybe it's that, in the wake of a real financial collapse, our relationship to Wall Street bad-guys has changed. But James doesn't have the same slick, enviable qualities that Gekko has, so watching him just doesn't have the same sense of playfulness. The film's major frustration is that it spends most of its time watching Moore and James duke it out, with Gekko watching from the sidelines. In Stone's commentary -- in which he talks about his father's career on Wall Street, and how the business has changed since his father's time -- the director mentions that he didn't think it would be appropriate to center the film around Gekko, a has-been trying to find his way back to success.

He needed a Bud Fox -- a young man starting out in the industry -- to grapple with the power of the Street in its current lightning-fast, tech-enhanced incarnation. Instead of being lured into the decadent lifestyle, like Fox was in the first film, Moore has to decide if he can work on Wall Street and still make positive changes in the world.

That makes sense, but it still doesn't explain James' function in the film. Generationally, he's halfway in-between Gekko, an old-timer, and Moore, who understands better the current way that Wall Street operates, with financial products so complex that physicists had to create them.

Forget Washington, forget Goldman: Our hero has global ambitions

In that way, James seems redundant to them both, and weighs down the story heavily. When Moore isn't bogged down by James and Gekko, he's trying to maintain a healthy relationship with Winnie -- who is even more of a slow drain on the story than James. Winnie, who works for a lefty blog that -- gasp!


If she cuts off all contact with a character -- as she has with Gekko upon his release from prison -- then he's gone too far off the Wall Street deep end and can't be redeemed. If she has a relationship with them -- as she does with Moore when he promises to invest in a green-energy company developing fusion technologies -- there's still some good there. Why Winnie would be in that milieu to begin with is unexplained. Even Gekko says, "You don't think it's strange that she's dating someone from Wall Street?

She hates it. I wonder how she even met Moore. Yet, Winnie is there, looking miserable in almost every scene. While Stone's human relationships feel more symbolic than real, he does demonstrate a better understanding of the financial system and its collapse in He delivers a thorough picture of America's relationship to debt. Gekko lectures against it on college campuses -- even Moore's mom, a real-estate agent, is in insurmountable debt trying to maintain three properties until the market turns around.

He features two extended scenes at the Federal Reserve Bank, where back-room deals for bank bailouts are discussed.

The serious business of literature

These scenes, as opposed to the slog of the human drama, hum with electricity. Cath learns while her husband forgets. As Bailey's condition deteriorates, Cath must commit him to a nursing home and deal with a ''bureaucratic vise'' to maintain her Medicaid benefits.

She has her husband labeled ''Do Not Resuscitate,'' but as his decline becomes uglier she wrestles with the idea of an assisted suicide. Jennings draws a parallel between Cath's moral hazard and the bank's.

Manual Moral Hazard - A Wall Street Thriller

When irresponsible foreign traders cause a crisis, should the bank leave those funds to their own sorry fates? Does ''structured finance,'' which is ''all aimed at neutralizing risk by parceling it up,'' function like the net of doctors and rules that keep a patient from a natural death? Readers looking to ''Moral Hazard'' for a crash course in investment will be disappointed.

Jennings's author's note provides some recommendations for those ''wanting to know more about the subject than a short novel can bear. You Don't Want to Know. Nor does ''Moral Hazard'' offer one of those rollicking, panoramic plots in which secrets are revealed, fortunes made and lost.

Mike muses that he'd love to write just such a Grishamesque thriller: ''All the investment banks have C. Filled with spooks! Being a banker is a good cover. The stories I've heard. The novel works when Jennings's writing is that lively and precise.

She's at her best describing the gray grimness of the working drone's daily life: skyscrapers as ''infestations of middle managers, tortuous chains of command, stupor-inducing meetings, ever-widening gyres of e-mail. Drive ''by the Lower East Side playing fields and their antiquated stadium lighting banked in uneven clusters and resembling graying dowager diamonds'' that should delight New Yorkers. The material about Bailey's battle with Alzheimer's is somewhat less successful.

Jennings carefully avoids sentimentality about the death of her protagonist's ''darling husband,'' but Cath's stiff-upper-lip forbearance can wear thin. Further, there may be a little problem in the extended metaphor about Alzheimer's and Wall Street. There's only one way that Bailey's story can end, as end it must. The financial markets, on the other hand, have ''been around, in one form or another, since the Sumerians. In one scene, Cath disparages a pep talk for midlevel women managers.