The Bank

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In THE BANK, Anthony LaPaglia is God in a Better Suit.

Sep 12, 2002 (Updated Jul 4, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Very Good

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:Strong performances, production design, editing, music. Timely Australian idea, a year ahead of its time.

Cons:The screen play.

The Bottom Line: THE BANK, despite some awkward plotting, which spoils our suspension of disbelief, deals entertainingly with a crucial topic to our financial, perhaps our national survival.


Had a rough day?
Too preoccupied to vote?
Savings dwindling?
Lost your job?
-- or your farm being foreclosed upon?
Terrorists about to blow you up?
You think Capitalism is the same as Democracy?

You say, you were only given a $3 Mil stock option this year by THE BANK?!!

The Science of Non-linear Numbers offers you . . . Mandelbrots!

At least, Mandelbrots are what math expert Jim Doyle (David Wenham) prescribes for hot shot Centabank President Simon O'Reily, whose perks and job are at jeopardy, in Writer-Director Robert Connolly's film about the effects of the Asian Currency Crisis on Australia in the late 1990's. The concept of Mandelbrots, like Gordon Gecko's "Greed is good" in WALL STREET (Stone, 1987), or Darren Aronovsky's entwining numbers in PI (1998), is almost worth the price of admission.

Rudely similar, in function, to once admired *'Chainsaw Al' Dunlap of Sunbeam fame, CEO O'Riley (Anthony LaPaglia) is an American hired gun, brought in by Melbourne's Centabank's Board of Trustees (as boards in crisis will do) to shake up the organization. He has closed half THE BANK's branches, including most of its rural ones, and laid off substantial numbers of employees. Centabank's fiscal year profits on paper have risen by 16% -- in former times, a phenomenal accomplishment.

Not enough! declares Centabank's Chairman. October's witching hour of expired options, stock index futures, exhausted currency contracts, exploded junk bonds, debts accountable, loans uncollectible, derivitives predicated on premises as arcane as Mendelbrots . . . all promise disaster for as far as the eye can see. [Rather like the American Government's Deficit situation.] In the coming year, they need a balance sheet profit of 20%, and in the year after that, 24%, in order to satisfy their shareholders and, more importantly, The Market. O'Riley smiles grimly. He does not know what else he can cut, how he can achieve the figures they require.

O'Riley's problem (not explained in Connolly's screenplay) has its roots in the collapse of an obscure Korean bank in early 1997 -- a measly 6 billion dollars -- which harbinged, over the next couple of years, devastation for the Asian economies. Globalization, American and European interests, the World Bank and the International Money Fund and what Western financial maevens derisively called "Crony Capitalism" (as if there is any other) -- all played their part. The ramifications spread as far as Russia, and had a ripple warning effect in the 1998 Long Term Capital Management Hedge Fund Collapse in the United States. Indeed, a clever economist might see the influence of the "Asian Flu" in the bursting of the Dot.Com Bubble in 2000, and what the bizarre manipulations of Enron, World.Com and others revealed in this past year, which, as I write, have not led to as many indictments as the American Public should have expected.

This unpretty picture of sheer irresponsibility is not what the banks liked to project 30 years ago. In fact, keep your eye on the opening scene of THE BANK -- missed by many critics -- in which a pompous branch assistant manager is an "outside speaker" at a rural Australian school, decades ago. Hoping to get his community's youngsters hooked on savings accounts, he invokes the magic phrase: Compound Interest!

(It has also been a siren call to millions of American small investors, for generations.)

Simon O'Riley, however, needs something stronger than Compound Interest: Mandelbrots!

[Benoit Mandelbrot in 1960 reduced to iterate equations and complex numbers certain mysterious recurring patterns in Nature. The Mandelbrots, as they became known, are bug or slug-like visual figures which attach themselves in endless extension, inherent to almost every natural form. (Think of snow flakes, kaleidoscopes, persian carpets, paisley scarves or the Fall fashions for 2002.) They revealed themselves at the heart of Chaos Theory in our new understanding of the Universe, and soon theorists and practical mathematicians were utilizing these discoveries in a myriad of applications, from computer software to stock market transactions.]

Brahmin-like Outlander Jim Doyle has speculated that, with the World's newest super-computers and unlimited resources, he could craft a software program which would predict the actions of the stock market. Much as Wall Street's Salomon Brothers (now reorganized as Smith Barney) turned to Nobel Prize Winners Myron Scholes and Robert Merton at the time -- as perhaps Enron's Ken Lay gave a roving commission to Andrew Fastow in our own -- Simon O'Riley, in his desperation, turns to the fractal numbers genius Doyle; in this case, to apply the new magic of Mandelbrot theory. These acts do not follow the "Prudent Man" rule, but . . .

When faced with bankruptcy, anything is worth a try.

Doyle's manner and his theories cause much eye-rolling among O'Reily's associates; however, the CEO brings him aboard as a carefully monitored consultant. Looking down from his executive aerie on Melbourne's skyscrapers, arterial freeways, and bridges (very like a pristine copy of New York or Chicago), O'Reily tells his new hire: "We've entered the Age of Corporate Feudalism, and we are the new Merchant Princes."

Machiavellianism, if not a satanic pact, is the order of Centabank's day, and so Doyle gets his super computer (which looks and sounds like Kubrick's Hal9000), a small army of brilliant economists, programmers and technicians. He enjoys a limo, unlimited expenses, and an extremely friendly young woman. When blonde, strong featured Michelle Roberts (Sibylla Budd), a Centabank employee, begins to shed her clothes at the end of their first date, he asks her in his country-bred way: "Shouldn't we get to know each other first?"

"What if we don't like each other?" she rejoins.

The habitually suspicious Doyle immediately wonders whether or not Michelle, as she says, is "just here for the architecture."

Meanwhile, on Melbourne's outer docks, Wayne and Diane Davis (Steve Rogers and Mandy McElhinney) are living on a houseboat. They are homely small business people hiding out, reduced to catching daily meals for their young son, Stephen (Mitchell Butel), in the Bay. The Davises had fallen heavily for Centabank's hyperbolic advertising, when the seas were lavish with sen, yen and Hong Kong dollars, during the Asian currency transaction boom. Now they have lost their business, their home, their savings; and process servers for The Bank are on their trail to divest them of their last possession, the houseboat. Young Steve feels keenly their come-down in the World, and as the young do, he has internalized it.

How the story of the Davises, small fry losers in the context of the New World Order, meshes with O'Riley's high level macro-machinations at Centabank, and those cutting edge if arcane ministrations of Doyle, should be the dramatic matrix of THE BANK. Unfortunately, Writer Connolly's script is not up to the significant idea which informs it. The Davises -- the death of their son, their (entirely realistic) discovery that most attorneys don't feel they lost enough to make for a profitable case, the absurd perjury of Doyle in "Davis VS Centabank" -- seem peripheral and unconvincing through much of the film.

This failing is egregious because the Davises represent millions around the World who have trustingly lost their life savings recently, and tens of millions more who will do so in the next 20 years.

Simon O'Riley imperiously states the view, largely accepted in select financial and political circles, that governments no longer count; that Globalization and multi-national corporations now call the tune. "We are Bastards without Borders," O'Riley snaps at one point.

THE BANK strikes me as the product of several short subjects unevenly sewn together, and in support of that notion, I learn that Robert Connolly has made his reputation in short films. Still as the ambitious Connolly keeps things moving briskly along, Production Designer Luigi Pittorini, working on an obviously limited budget, gives the film, with its actual major Melbourne bank location, a sleek look. [Those strange designs which run intermittently through the film are Mandelbrots.] And Tristan Milani's metallic photography fits the picture's mood. Alan Johns contributes a Bernard Herrmann-like award winning musical score.

Anthony LaPaglia, hard after critical kudos for his depressed detective in LANTANA (Lawrence, 2001), holds THE BANK together with his performance. He is hard, sardonic, but not entirely unlikeable, as the financial warrior he portrays. David Wenham, soon to become familiar to mass audiences in the last two of the LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, brings an enigmatic, austere handsome quality to the guarded Jim Doyle. And Sybylla Budd's Michelle, and Greg Stone as apprehensive Vince, O'Riley's conscience, give strong support.

----------------

Critics may easily dismiss the depiction of Centabank's operations as simplistic, may rightly criticize the holes and implausibility's in the plot, but THE BANK may be enjoyed simply as an entertaining old-fashioned "thriller." And there is an important additional reason why THE BANK is worth seeing:

On September 12, 2002, one day after the sad anniversary of the destruction of our World Trade Center; on the day President Bush announced his intention to go to war with Iraq, whether the United Nations liked it or not; and on the day that the CEO of the 270,000 employee Tyco International was indicted (allegedly for defrauding investors of up to $600,000,000), THE BANK is a distant warning of an approaching catastrophe potentially more dangerous to most Americans than the "War on Terrorism," and almost anything short of World War III or an Atomic Holocaust.

THE BANK's subtext is neatly summed up within "The End of Empire," by the very reliable muckraking economist William Greider, in the September 23rd issue of The Nation. Briefly, Greider points out that, after the United States, in the decade of the 1990's, had sharply reduced our yearly deficits, and even rolled back our National Debt, the Bush Administration with its grandiose financial and military commitments is now returning to the huge unsustainable expenditures of the 1980's. That fact is compounded by our persistent and continuing Trade Deficit. The capital to fuel these two huge debts comes to a large degree from Europe and Asia, both heavily invested in the Middle East.

In other words, America is back to the "blood will run in the streets" financial situation of the late Reagan Administration; we are a macrocosmic version of THE BANK. And while in the last 15 years, we have sapped much of the available resources of the earth to maintain our life style, both our International and domestic situations have become increasingly precarious.

America's net foreign indebtedness, according to Greider, "will reach nearly 25% of GDP [Gross National Product] this year, or roughly $2.5 trillion." An increase of a trillion dollars in roughly one year. [In 1988, we became a Debtor Nation for the first time since the early 1920's.] He goes on to estimate that, if our trade deficits alone continue at a rate of $400 billion a year, our total indebtedness would exceed one-third of GDP in late 2005, and in ten years, over 50%. At present, possibly for some time to come, if the World does not become destabilized, we can sustain that debt because we are the World's "Buyer of Last Resort." However, if we continue our present bellicosity, occupying countries in the Middle East and threatening the economic returns of our European and Asian Bankers, our period of Triumphalism may be short lived.

Just as the British Empire, after a roughly hundred year period of World dominance, went into steep economic decline following World War I, and was propped up by us for convenience sake until well after World War II, the United States will become increasingly beholden to the other strong economic nations of the World. And as the Eisenhower Administration kicked the British Empire into its grave by denying it financial credits to complete its 1956 Suez Intervention with France and Israel against Egypt, there will come a time when the European and Asian Central Banks will simply curtail further credit to activities damaging to their financial interests. With the Dollar at risk to the Euro, we will have no choice but to comply. Or risk the consequences.

The time is late.

[There is a radical school, not a part of Greider's argument, which suggests that the economic forces behind Bush Administration, in an attempt to stave off our precipitous decline, will attempt not only to occupy or control Iraq but also Iran, Libyia, Syria, Jordan, Saudia Arabia, and the Arab Oil Emirates, under the guise of bringing them Democracy. In this scheme, our petroleum needs would be satisfied until we could bring other sources of energy on line. The key to such a reckless plan, curiously enough, would be Egypt.]

If these seemingly overheated conclusions should be made an extrapolation of Mandelbrots, or Beautiful Minds of the John Nash variety, I leave for you to judge, but a similar desperate ruthlessness of risk taking is displayed in THE BANK, as when Simon O'Riley declares: "I owe our shareholders everything, the public nothing." He is expressing a truth of modern banking, and when we look hard at Citibank and J.P. Morgan in the wake of the fall of 60 billion dollar Enron and the hundred billion dollar World.Com, we can see that certainly the small, even the medium investors are not the bottom line.

Derivitive Accounts on paper, Worldwide, are estimated to equal 130 trillion dollars. Should the Chinese move their currency accounts into the Euro within the next five years, the Day of the American Petro-dollar would be at an end, and so perhaps, would be America as the power it thinks itself to be, at the moment.

----------------

THE BANK was nominated for half a dozen awards in Australia, and surprising to me, won Robert Connolly an award for Best Original Screenplay; surprising to others, no doubt, it beat out fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE for Best Editing.

In any case, THE BANK is worth a look, if only to concentrate your attention on the future of World Economics. Simon O'Riley may be God in a better suit, as he quips to his guests at a soiree, but Americans better not count on our belief that God is an American to save us in the next generation.

As Boss Jim Gettys said to that quintessential American, Charles Foster Kane, in CITIZEN KANE: "You've had one lesson, but that's not enough for you. You're going to need more than one lesson. And you're going to get more than one lesson!"

It's all very sad . . . and you can take that to THE BANK.

-----------------
*On September 5, 2002, book-cooker 'Chainsaw Al' Dunlap agreed to pay a paltry $500, 000 in fines (on top of a $15 million dollar judgment against him in favor of investors), while promising never to act in an executive capacity again. A personality similar to the character of Simon O'Riley, Dunlap, legendary for cutting corners and firing employees to reduce overhead, was guilty of concealing the true state of Sunbeam Electric's books from 1996 until its bankruptcy in 2001. Billions of dollars in equipment and product were discounted; thousands of employees lost jobs; tens of thousands of shareholders lost savings, which, as in most of these cases, cannot ever be really indemnified. Dunlap is thought to be the model for the later secretive CEO's of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, ImClone, and Global Crossing, etc., and now possibly Tyco International. [The beat goes on.] Dunlap's activities occurred before the Securities Exchange Commission was able to recommend such miscreants for criminal prosecution. Dunlap is thought to have accumulated a personal fortune of 100 million dollars.

Hard to know, if Simon O'Riley would have done so well in Australia.

----------------------------

UPDATE: July 4, 2003 -- Looking back, we can see that reforms have been installed, but they seem not to have teeth. A number of the companies mentioned above have gone bankrupt, or have written down huge debts, and a number of their top officers have been indicted, including nearly a dozen of those at bankrupt Enron, thought instrumental in bringing about a substantial energy-related portion of California's 38 billion dollar deficit.

Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, a real-life counterpart of Simon O'Riley in THE BANK, has been indicted on over 100 counts. As of Tuesday, July 1, 2003, he was bickering with prosecutors whether or not he should be tried before his wife Lea (being prosecuted on six counts, most for filing false income tax returns). His case is not expected to be heard until well into 2004.

Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay has not been indicted. "Kenny-boy," as George W. Bush nicknamed him, was a substantial financial supporter of the President's 2000 Campaign. Large numbers of Enron executives have positions in the Bush Administration.

Neither Haliburton Oil, El Paso Natural Gas, nor other companies related to the Carlyle Group, identified with the President and Vice-President Richard Chaney, despite various conflict of interest charges, have been touched, at this writing.

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Recommend this product? Yes


Movie Mood: Serious Movie
Viewing Method: Sneak Preview at My Local Theater
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Script

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