A vindication of the real Gordon Gekko
Kyle Smith reviews on National Review a film on Carl Icahn. Icahn is among the most famous activists investors of the 1980s, and is still, pardon the pun, active. For example, he acquired a stake in McDonald’s and challenged its governance, not because of poor performance but for reasons related with animal welfare and the conditions in pig farms.
The HBO documentary Icahn: The Restless Billionaire, produced and directed by Bruce David Klein, offers a portrait of the investor and shows his life as a (quasi) rags-to-riches story (“The family didn’t have much. Dad was a cantor in the local synagogue, but only because he liked to sing: He was a “dogmatic atheist. But Icahn got into Princeton, became a stockbroker, and got a loan from an uncle in order to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange”). Judging from the review, Klein does something which is miraculous in a movie: that is, he offers a fair treatment of activist investing, showing it as an antidote against the complacency of the business establishment.
Smith reminds us that Icahn inspired Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko and suggests that Stone was not repelled but also fascinated by Icahn:
Icahn so impressed Oliver Stone that, as the filmmaker explains in a new interview, he used several of the financier’s ideas in Wall Street. An amusing interlude intercuts an actual Icahn speech from the Eighties with Gordon Gekko’s very similar remarks at the shareholder convention in the 1987 film. Icahn mentioned a company that had five floors of overpaid vice presidents doing nothing much, and Gekko mocked the same corporate gluttony. Stone was intrigued by Icahn, which is why Gekko makes such strong arguments. Today, the director describes Icahn as half right and half wrong for making private profits while neglecting public profits.
Read the whole piece. I really look forward to the movie.
By the way, The Guardian also reviews the movie. The piece by Andrew Lawrence is less enthusiastic, but there is a glimpse of admiration.
Far less dubious is the rationale for spending 100 minutes with the 86-year-old businessman whom one pundit affectionately calls capitalism’s “great white shark”. Immediately, you see how Stone could be inspired. Good or bad, the man is definitely a character.