Right on the Money
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
I guess none of us are really surprised that CEOs of big gigantic corporations have recently revealed themselves to be greedy and crooked, getting shipped off to prison for cooking their accounting books and skimming millions (billions?) off the top. At least no one seems shocked at the idea.
Now here comes an amazingly timely film from Australia called The Bank, which opens today at the Roxie for a week's run. Not only does it give us an evil corporate CEO for a bad guy, but it's also set in October of 2002, when a big (fictional) stock market crash is supposed to take place.
David Wenham (from the two upcoming Lord of the Rings sequels) stars as Jim Doyle, a computer genius who may have figured out a system for predicting the patterns in the stock market.
Doyle takes a meeting with Simon O'Reilly (Anthony LaPaglia), a slimy CEO whose job is to make money for big banks, even if it means laying off hundreds of workers. Doyle manages to convince O'Reilly that he's the real thing and soon finds himself with a high-paying job, the latest high-tech equipment, a limousine to take him to work -- and a new girlfriend named Michelle (Sibylla Budd).
On the whole, The Bank doesn't bother much using mathematics within its story, unlike Darren Aronofsky's Pi, which used the mathematical theories behind the stock market and other puzzles as fodder for its plot. The Bank doesn't need them; they're the "Maguffin" of the piece. The closest the film comes is a cutesy scene in which Doyle mixes olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a restaurant and comes up with some new calculation. But, hey, it's more logical than anything A Beautiful Mind came up with.
Meanwhile out in the countryside, the Davis family -- Wayne (Steve Rodgers) and Diane (Mandy McElhinney) -- has troubles of their own. Wayne's houseboat business is going under. When a process server catches their young son at home and serves him with papers, the boy goes out on the lake by himself and drowns -- the papers still on him. The Davises decide to sue the bank, but it takes them a while to find a lawyer who will even take their case and stand up to the bank's high-powered defense team.
Back in the high tower, Doyle discovers the stock market formula and predicts a big crash for October. Instead of taking precautions and helping people, O'Reilly decides to use the information to cash in. In a chilling speech, he explains that he owes the shareholders everything, and the public nothing.
I can't say any more without giving away the movie's clever ending. Let's just say that Doyle's formula equals more than just a moral crisis, and that the Davis' trouble turns into a vicious little coincidence. Let's just say I was pleasantly surprised on more than one front.
Moreover, the only real trouble I had with The Bank is its heavy reliance on that coincidence at the movie's climax. Though once again, I can't elaborate without ruining the ending.
The Bank marks the feature debut for writer/director Robert Connolly, and it won a slew of awards in Australia for its screenplay, editing, cinematography and score.
But the real power of the film comes from its two lead characters. As O'Reilly, LaPaglia radiates smoothness, a man so clean that he has scrubbed his conscience away. He's smarmy like Michael Douglas in Wall Street, but with a hint of pleasure, of a guy who has fun. And maybe a guy who's just a little bit tired.
(Though I couldn't figure out why this Australian-born actor would speak with an American accent in an otherwise completely Australian film.)
As the hero, Wenham has it quite a bit tougher. He's not allowed to reveal all of Doyle's secrets and instead must maintain a mix of moral outrage and genuine mathematical curiosity. He pulls it off, though his relationship with Michelle suffers slightly as a result.
But again, I enjoyed The Bank so much and was so completely taken in by its twisty story that I easily blew off these minor nit-picks. I won't go so far to compare it to Hitchcock, but it does stack up next to David Mamet's best thriller work.