Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!
Review — Wall Street (1987)
Michael Douglas had an amazing run in the 1980s and 1990s but no year treated him better than 1987. Two of the best movies he’s ever acted in came out this year; both were huge box office and critical successes. Fatal Attraction, the classic no-holds-barred thriller with Glenn Close in her scariest role ever, went on to gross 320 million dollars worldwide and racked up six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. By the time Close boiled the rabbit, it was a given conclusion that this movie was going to be a crowd-pleaser, and Douglas, who had started gaining momentum with Romancing the Stone just a few years prior, was finally proving to be a major movie star.
His status as a hot commodity in Hollywood cemented itself with a film that came out just three short months after Fatal Attraction and went on to win Douglas the year’s Best Actor Oscar. Wall Street is dated in some respects — those computers and cell phones! — but it still resonates all these years later as an entertaining morality thriller about the hunt for greed and the consequences of the quest.
Director Stone set out to make more political statements with his films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, but sandwiched between those films is this, a more mainstream Hollywood entertainment, one that Stone directs with clarity and confidence. There is rarely a dull moment to be had in this electrifying story that pits untested but ambitious Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) up against multi-millionaire and mega corrupt Gordon Gekko (Douglas).
Have there been very many character names that so perfectly fit the character and actor than Gordon Gekko? That’s one slime-ball of a name if there ever was one. We know from the beginning, just by that smile, body language, and yes, the name, that this guy’s going to mean nothing but trouble for Bud. We watch as Bud befriends and starts working for Gordon and begins making his way up in the ranks… but for a price.
It’s great fun to watch Sheen and Douglas sparring off one another, but the film is made even richer by the terrific supporting cast. Daryl Hannah has an on-and-off relationship with Bud, and it is clear right away what a guy like him could see in a privileged woman like her. John C. McGinley makes an impression with his small amount of screen time playing the schmuck who has to watch Bud become more and more successful while he still plays by the rules and doesn’t change one bit. Hal Holbrook, Sean Young, and Saul Rubinek have fine moments throughout. And Martin Sheen memorably plays real life son Sheen’s father as a man who wants nothing but the best for his son but conflicted about the unethical path he’s watching him take.
Watching Like a Writer
Whenever I think of this film, I go to that classic speech Gekko gives where he discusses why greed is good. It’s a scene that’s become iconic over the years, and it’s a speech that has become one of the most famous in movie history. This makes me take into account any moments in my fiction where characters give speeches. I usually stay away from speeches. In fiction and in screenwriting, stopping the story for a character, the hero or the villain, to give a long monologue of some kind, is almost always a recipe for disaster. Usually the speech is used to give information to the reader, or it’s used to rally up the other characters in a way we’ve seen in a hundred other stories. Speeches made by one of your primary characters should only be there for a specific reason that drives forward the story, reveals character, and offers something unique.
Look at your current WIP, and write a detailed speech your character might give to the other characters. What would he or she talk about? What might the speech add to the story?