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Wall Street

Year: 1987
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: Oliver Stone/Stanley Weiser
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Daryl Hannah, John C McGinley, Hal Holbrook, James Karen

Ask a kid who wasn't around at the time what decade Jaws came out. Lucas and Spielberg mostly kept the fashions and attitudes of the time out of their respective movies, hallmarks that help sell other movies but also seriously date them.

Ask anyone familiar with the social attitudes of the last 60 years what decade Wall Street comes from and they'll tell you without hesitation. It embodies not just the fashion or the style trappings (although it very much does in both cases) but the whole ethos of the first period of free-wheeling, brutally Darwinian capitalism. Greed, as everyone in the western world knows even if they haven't seen the film, is indeed good.

Up and coming trader Bud Fox (Sheen) wants nothing more than to work with legendary corporate raider Gordon Gecko (Douglas). In that sense, it's like a lot of successful American movies in that it's the primeval tale of a boy finding the right father figure. Bud's own dad (Sheen) plays his onscreen father, an honest, hardworking men who - as he says in a pivotal line - doesn't judge a man by the size of his wallet.

But Gecko is the sort of guy Bud (along with the rest of America) loves - can-do, kick-ass, take no prisoners. He takes risks, wins the game and lives the high life on the strength of it.

Even when he realises Gecko is a bald-faced insider trader, Bud's desperate to impress him, giving him a tip on the airline his father works for. Gecko summarily buys and destroys the airline to further his portfolio and Bud learns the human cost of the world he wants, finally agreeing to confront Gecko and try and deliver justice.

Stone has a working knowledge of the hedge funds, broker terms and obscure financial deals he depicts in the film, but the themes are about much more than the backdrop. For Bud it's the story of a boy finding his place in the world and figuring out what's right and wrong.

For Gecko it's about the summing up of brutal, beautiful truth of the system we're all slaves to. He outlines it in a speech delivered in a conference scene that's unwittingly become the mission statement not just of a movie or a decade but an institution, one we now know has learnt nothing as I write these words in 2010.

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