Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Corporate Raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is the film's representation of this. His career choice revolves around buying lots of interest in a corporation with the intent to gain voting rights to enact measures aimed at increasing the value of the corporation's shares, thus giving him the power to downsize, liquidate company assets or the company itself, or to replace top executives with people he likes. So basically, Gekko's a heartless, ruthless crook who won't think twice about the costs that come from making a quick buck. This is especially bad when young stockbrokers who aim for the stars worship the ground he walks on.
Enter Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a junior stockbroker who's desperate to get into business with Gekko, and is blinded to Gekko's villainy by money, a penthouse, a gorgeous blonde (Daryl Hannah), and any other personal perks of being a corporate jackass, as Bud gets in deeper with Gekko solely because of illicit business practices like insider trading and securities fraud.
So from this brief synopsis on the theme of the film--without any real specifics--you get an accurate idea as to why so many people can make such rash decisions which can affect the lives of thousands, or millions when you add up all the schemes all the Gekko's in the world are involved in. And the answer is greed for big shots like Gekko who love that game, but for amateurs like Bud, it's the thrill of the high roller lifestyle, as he will at some point come to a cross roads in which he must decide what's more valuable to him, being his morals taught to him by his blue collar father Carl (Martin Sheen), or the endless supply of perks provided easily by Gekko.
What director Oliver Stone has accomplished here is truly brilliant. He paints a picture not of a creepy dark tower with a gothic villain in a cape scheming on how to screw people today while his fire breathing dragon does all the dirty work as many around the world animate in their political cartoons, but rather of a world of people loving the game, the perks, and most importantly, the power. Unfortunately it comes from ruthless business tactics, and the advantage of being high above a city where everyone's in the same game is that you don't witness any of the consequences of your actions firsthand, rather you regard it as just numbers and percentages on CNBC with green or red gracing the digital screens of the NYSE. Never does the average worker come into play, never entering their psyche as they go about their villainy. Not to say they don't realize the effects of their actions, but by being separated from it, they adapt the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality to the nth degree. That's what Oliver Stone has accomplished here, but still, accomplishing that doesn't make for an excellent movie. For it is somewhat slow and predictable, but making the climax understandable for laymen made for the most exciting sequence in the film.
And the most captivating thing of all is how Gordon Gekko can go about condoning his business practices, and rationalizing its necessity to keep the economy going. And when the rest of the country regards them as crooks and turns off the television, then there's no wonder why they got away with it. Yet when big shots like Bernard Madoff are nabbed, people cheer, without giving the supporting faculties which enabled it a second thought. The millionaires continue to run the nation, and then when a Madoff emerges, they try to tell a different story to get themselves out of the limelight from the prying eyes of the public. Director Oliver Stone has pried far enough to show us how these chains of horrible events begin. Not too different than someone being sucked into a cult or a gang. Except these gangsters come to work in Armani suits and engage in good public relations before heading out in their stretch limousines with confidence that everything is legal.