I confess that what little I know about corporate raiders I learned mostly from Pretty Woman. In that 1990 film, Richard Gere played a finance vulture, swooping in on a vulnerable family-owned shipbuilding company with the intention of buying it, stripping it down and breaking it up to sell off the parts for a massive profit. As we all recall, he’s humanized when a Hollywood Boulevard prostitute with a moral compass and a radiant smile, played by Julia Roberts, shows him the beauty of compassionate intervention, magically transforming his impeccably tailored suits into shining armor.
Ayad Akhtar tells a more detailed version of that story and its long-range reverberations, minus the ethical hooker and the fairy-tale ending, in his modern-day Shakespearean history play, Junk. To stick with the movie references, the drama evokes Wall Street and Other People’s Money (the latter based on a play) while surveying the climate that paved the way for Margin Call and The Big Short. Which is to say it’s not terribly new, even if it remains relevant. We’re back in “greed is good” territory, though the central character played by Steven Pasquale, a fictionalized, disclaimer-protected version of Michael Milken named Robert Merkin, has more complex shadings than Gordon Gekko.