Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Movie Review: Double Jeopardy (1999)

A murder and revenge mystery thriller, Double Jeopardy offers attractive locations and a willing cast, but far-fetched plot points.

In Whidbey Island, Washington, Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) is devoted to her young son Matty and believes she is happily married to businessman Nick (Bruce Greenwood). But after a passionate night with Nick on board a luxury yacht, she wakes up to a nightmare: Nick is missing and the boat is covered in blood. With overwhelming circumstantial evidence lined up against her, Libby is convicted of her husband's murder and imprisoned.

While serving her sentence she stumbles upon evidence Nick is still alive under a new identity, and has run off with her supposed best friend Angie Green (Annabeth Gish) and Matty. Seething with rage, she plots revenge after learning she cannot be re-tried for killing Nick again. Once released, Libby tangles with parole officer Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones), who has troubles of his own and interferes with her quest to locate her husband and child.

Adopting a very generous definition of a legal principle preventing a defendant standing trial for the same case twice, Double Jeopardy adopts a full-speed-ahead, look-good-and-don't-worry-about-the-details stance. Director Bruce Beresford just about makes it work. A magazine shine coats the action, a bit of humour is sprinkled into the mix, and on-location beauty and colour all distract from the many logic holes.

Everything happens within a proverbial blur. Libby's trial is over before it begins. Her incarceration lasts six years, but the prison hardships presented in the script (courtesy of David Weisberg and Douglas Cook) resemble, at worst, a bad day at summer camp. Once she sets her mind on revenge Libby embarks on a physical training regime: it consists of one lap around the prison courtyard in the rain, and a couple of lifts on a weight machine.

All the in-built fast-forwarding is necessary to introduce Travis Lehman and allow Tommy Lee Jones to enter proceedings as the crusty parole officer. Jones is here to complicate Libby's revenge agenda with his pre-established chase-the-fugitive credentials. But unfortunately this coincides with the narrative losing steam, Beresford prolonging the middle third with plenty of relatively docile side-chases, until Travis and Libby catch up with Nick (now pretending to be hotelier Jonathan Devereaux) in a picturesque New Orleans.

The final act benefits from Bruce Greenwood oozing evil smarm and completing the triangle of Libby's determination and Travis' character restoration. Double Jeopardy glosses over the law, but doubles down on the gloss.

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Sunday, 23 January 2022

Movie Review: U.S. Marshals (1998)

An action-packed thriller, U.S. Marshals is a fast-paced chase adventure with a rich plot and no shortage of over-the-top moments.

Chicago tow truck driver Mark Warren (Wesley Snipes) is arrested for allegedly killing two Department of Diplomatic Security (DDS) agents at a shootout in the United Nations building parkade. On a prisoners' flight to New York, Warren narrowly escapes an assassination attempt, but in the ensuing melee, the plane crashes. Also on board is US Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). He helps rescue most of the flight's passengers, but Warren escapes and is deemed a fugitive.

Gerard assembles his team and gives chase, with DDS officials inserting their agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) into Gerard's crew. Warren is really Mark Sheridan, an ex-government agent caught in a web of betrayal and deception involving state espionage and a Chinese embassy assassin. Sheridan seeks help from his girlfriend Marie Bineaux (Irène Jacob) and makes his way to New York to try and clear his name, with Gerard hot on his trail.

A spin-off from the The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals provides high quality if also occasionally excessive entertainment. Every highlight rides the line between well-done and over-done, director Stuart Baird generally defaulting to a more-is-more attitude, leading to a relatively mammoth running time of 131 minutes. Despite the length, a high level of continuous exhilaration ensures solid engagement.

With quality production values, sharp editing, and frequent scenery changes to keep the visuals fresh, the spectacular scenes arrive early and often. The brilliant plane crash is an epic exercise in what-else calamity. The manhunt then goes through a swamp, followed by a cemetery shoot-out enlivened by a sniper. A breathless pursuit through a New York building ends with a memorable rooftop stunt. 

A complex but comprehensible plot underpins the action, and the central conspiracy is revealed in traceable steps. Of course the fugitive Mark Warren was never going to remain the antagonist, and co-writers Roy Huggins and John Pogue allow the dynamic between Gerard and Warren to gradually evolve as the Marshal starts to understand the layers of subterfuge surrounding events at the United Nations shoot-out.

The trio of Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, and Robert Downey Jr. provide ample star power to keep up with all the kinetic energy. Jones is the cerebral centrepiece, with Snipes and Downey Jr. offering worthy opponents and pleasing gravitational pulls. In contrast, Gerard's team of agents (Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, and LaTanya Richardson) generally just make up the numbers. Kate Nelligan appears in a couple of scenes as Gerard's boss.

U.S. Marshals covers mostly familiar ground, but with a sparkling polish.

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Saturday, 22 January 2022

Movie Review: Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

The third film in a series adapting author Len Deighton's Harry Palmer spy adventures to the screen, Billion Dollar Brain steers towards buffoonish satire and crashes into a miserable failure.

In London, Palmer (Michael Caine) has left MI5 and is working as a private investigator. He refuses overtures by his former boss Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman) to return to the service, instead accepting a computer-issued assignment to deliver a package to Helsinki. There he meets Anya (Françoise Dorléac) and her partner Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden), who are involved in a plot financed by Texas megalomaniac General Midwinter (Ed Begley) to fight communism with the help of computer analytics.

Deploying strong arm tactics, Ross does succeed in convincing Palmer to rejoin MI5. Palmer makes his way to Latvia's capital Riga and gets reacquainted with his jovial Soviet foe Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka). Palmer uncovers Midwinter's plan to force the Soviets out of Latvia, and realizes Leo has his own agenda to make a lot of money on the side. 

Combining controversial director Ken Russell with a spy milieu in frigid surroundings was always going to be a risk, and sure enough, it just does not work. Producer Harry Saltzman ends up with a mess on his hands, Billion Dollar Brain falling into a wide gap between muddled espionage, failed satire, and low-brow humour.

The opening act quickly loses balance, Palmer poking his business into a murky plot, allowing himself to be led by the nose first by Anya, then Leo, and finally Ross. The action goes completely off the rails with the introduction of nut case General Midwinter, Ed Begley not just chewing the scenery but also vomiting on it with no hint of control. By this point Oskar Homolka's Colonel Stok is undressing in Palmer's hotel room and exiting through the balcony in search of cheap laughs. The plot finally consumes itself in the idiocy of Midwinter leading an army - assembled out of nowhere and packed into tanker trucks - in an absurd attempt to liberate Latvia.

As Stok, Leo, and Midwinter form of a trio of lunatics commanding the asylum, Palmer is mostly an observer and doofus victim primarily concerned with seducing Anya. Russell wastes scenic Nordic and Eastern European surroundings with his uncoordinated antics, and the main point of interest defaults to glossy scenes of large computer rooms representing the era's state of the science. But even the imbecilic title premise of a computer issuing orders and plotting wars is undermined by the ease with which Leo reprograms the machine to suit his purpose. As it turns out, a billion dollars does not buy much of a brain.

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Movie Review: Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

A prison drama, Escape From Alcatraz explores life behind bars preceding an audacious escape attempt.

In the early 1960s, highly intelligent criminal Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) is transferred to the maximum security Alcatraz prison, located on a rock off the San Francisco coast. Frank is a master at escaping, but the warden (Patrick McGoohan) assures him no one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. 

Frank settles into the prison community and befriends prisoners Litmus, who has a pet mouse; Doc, who loves to paint; English, who works at the library and leads the Black contingent; and Butts, who occupies the neighbouring cell. He also tangles with the abusive goon Wolf, earning himself a stint in solitary confinement.

When brothers John and Clarence Anglin (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau) are also transferred to Alcatraz, Frank finally finds suitable partners to plot an escape. He hatches a plan to dig out the dilapidating concrete around the cell vents to access the utility corridor and search for a way out.

A dramatization of real events, Escape From Alcatraz gains a sense of place through dedication to a single environment. The entire film takes place at the prison, writer Richard Tuggle adapting the book by J. Campbell Bruce into a taut drama of a male-only society confined to a concrete fort. Director Don Siegel adopts a sparse and economical style, avoiding claustrophobia by minimizing dialogue and briskly moving shots between cells, corridors, the food hall, and the outside courtyard.

The characterizations are thin and precious little is revealed about the men's pre-incarceration lives. But star power compensates, and a domineering Clint Eastwood is in top flinty mode, as Morris quickly absorbs and adapts to his new home with the sole purpose of making it temporary. Siegel surrounds him with a cast of relative unknowns representing men cast away from society. The prisoners range from artistic to brutal, this Alcatraz a miniature representation of all that society offers.

After a patient and slightly overextended set-up, the actual escape logistics activate in the final third. The tension mounts, Morris exploiting his environment, stature, and friendships to devise ingenious tools and diversions to keep the guards clueless as he chips away at the cell wall. His smarts extend to recognizing the need for fellow-escapees, this break-out only viable if several men work together towards a common cause. Escape From Alcatraz works hard to establish an individual mood, then cleverly breaks free.

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Thursday, 20 January 2022

Movie Review: MacKenna's Gold (1969)

A western treasure hunt adventure, MacKenna's Gold harbours ambitions of grandeur but is just plain awful.

In Arizona of 1874, Marshal Sam MacKenna (Gregory Peck) stumbles upon a map locating a canyon full of gold. Local legends have long spoken about such a location, with Apache spirits protecting the treasure from any intruders. Sam burns the map, but is soon captured by his old foe the bandit Colorado (Omar Sharif) who believes Sam must remember the map's details.

Colorado's gang also holds Inga Bergemann (Camilla Sparv) as a hostage to dissuade a chasing cavalry group from attacking. Sergeant Tibbs (Telly Savalas) is a cavalry member with his own ambitions to find the gold. A group of men from the nearby town of Hadleyburg join Colorado's treasure hunt, including Old Adams (Edward G. Robinson), who claims to have once seen the treasure before being blinded by vengeful Apaches. MacKenna does not believe the gold even exists, but has to keep himself alive long enough to escape and rescue Inga. 

Clocking in at an interminable 128 minutes, with horrifying legends of an original three hour cut, MacKenna's Gold is plagued by plastic motivations, bad casting, superfluous folksy narration, and an almost laughably inept script courtesy of producer Carl Foreman. Director J. Lee Thompson does capture majestic scenery and dazzling rock formations in Arizona and Utah, but the visual beauty is quickly trampled by atrocious pacing and unimaginative dynamics.

Within a charisma-free set of characters, the usually reliable Gregory Peck is simply disinterested, while Omar Sharif tries and miserably fails to channel Tuco. Both are not helped by remarkably juvenile dialogue in which characters threaten to kill each other in every scene.

The lowlights arrive early and frequently. The so-bad-it's-really-bad opening song Old Turkey Buzzard, incredibly composed by Quincy Jones with lyrics by Foreman, sets the stage, and the turkey reference soon proves entirely appropriate. An entire sub-cast of veteran actors, including Robinson, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Anthony Quayle, Raymond Massey, and Burgess Meredith, is introduced with the theatrical inelegance of a stiff board meeting, before being summarily massacred in the next scene.

Director Thompson and his team of editors clumsily paste the stars into the action scenes with fuzzy and mismatched rear-projection. As part of a limp lust triangle, an entirely silent Julie Newmar as Apache woman Hesh-Ke, a member of Colorado's gang, spends the entire movie trying to kill Camilla Sparv's Inga. One of these women ends up falling to their death off an enormous cliff, but no one seems to remotely care. 

The ending features a rock formation shadow that grows longer as the sun rises, then three characters inexplicably scale an impossible-to-climb vertical cliff; two of them fight on a ledge half-way up; then all three clamber back down. The grand finale of destruction mixes a few impressive shots of collapsing rocks with plenty of atrocious miniature effects unworthy of a film school project.

It's easy to imagine MacKenna's Gold impressing ten year old boys. Everyone else starts to wonder whether Old Adams' poke-your-eyes-out fate is really all that bad.

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Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Movie Review: We Are Marshall (2006)

A sports drama, We Are Marshall is an inspirational but also frequently melodramatic rise-from-the-ashes story.

In 1970, a plane crash kills 75 people, including most of the Marshall University football team. The survivors include team captain Nate Ruffin (Anthonie Mackie), who missed the trip due to injury, and coach "Red" Dawson (Matthew Fox), who gave up his seat on the doomed flight at the last minute. The university's community of Huntington, West Virginia, descends into shock, including influential local business leader Paul Griffen (Ian McShane), who lost his son in the crash. 

President Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) considers shutting down the football program, but Ruffin rallies support to rebuild the team. After being turned down by all leading candidates, Dedmon hires Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) as head coach. Lengyel has no prior association with Marshall but plenty of energy, and convinces Red to join him as assistant coach. A frantic recruitment program results in a group of young and untested freshmen and walk-ons being cobbled together into a team to tackle the new season.

An undoubtedly touching story of grief and recovery afforded the full Hollywood treatment, We Are Marshall draws strength from a real-life tragedy giving birth to resilience. Director McG translates Jamie Linden's script into a polished and well-staged narrative, combining the search for meaning with the difficulty of life marching on, regardless. For all the tender emphasis on loss, the film is also unabashedly manipulative, seeking opportunities to pause and deliver rousing moments, motivational speeches, and fists-in-the-air demonstrations of togetherness, always accompanied by requisite musical flourishes.

The focus is on a small group of community members navigating numbness and fury, survivor's guilt, a father's sorrow, and overwhelming helplessness, fuelling different opinions on whether reactivating the football program benefits healing. With Matthew McConaughey in full charm-on mode, coach Lengyel becomes the outside catalyst not personally affected by the tragedy and therefore able to prod the community on the path to recovery. 

But grief this deep lingers, and to the film's credit, not all the characters are eager to join the rebirth process. While the overblown climax casts a long shadow, thankfully the journeys of grieving dad Paul Griffen and diner server Annie (Kate Mara), who was engaged to Paul's son, end on a more wistful note away from sports heroics. David Strathairn adds eloquent touches of hesitant humanity as the university president with no playbook on how to navigate a mammoth tragedy.

A gesture of respect by a rival school's football team asserts the unifying power of sport, and the on-field scenes are well-staged, capturing the grit, agony, and ecstasy of college football. We Are Marshall knows where the goal is, and despite bombastic tendencies, registers an assured victory.

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Movie Review: The Fourth Protocol (1987)

A Cold War thriller, The Fourth Protocol features a slick bombing plot but weak characterizations and derivative details.

In London, MI5 agents John Preston (Michael Caine) and Sir Nigel Irvine (Ian Richardson) uncover government official Berenson as a spy. They turn him to feed false intelligence to Irvine's KGB rival Karpov (Ray McAnally). In the USSR, Karpov is not aware his power-hungry boss Govorshin (Alan North) has recruited agent Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) for a false flag mission to detonate an atomic bomb at a NATO base in the UK. Karpov eventually gets wind of the plan from his ally Borisov (Ned Beatty).

Petrofsky travels to the UK, rents an apartment near a NATO base, and starts to collect the bomb components from Soviet courier agents. Preston suspects a plot is unfolding when he intercepts a detonator and locates a Soviet communications hub on English soil transmitting suspicious messages. KGB agent Irina Vassilievna (Joanna Cassidy) arrives to help Petrofsky assemble the bomb, as Preston races to connect the dots.

Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol carries a threat and teases out admirable tactical details, but is essentially a distilled version of The Day Of The Jackal. Here Petrofsky is the silent assassin going about his business with grim-faced efficiency as his counterpoint Preston scrambles to gather clues. Despite expansive direction by John Mackenzie, making excellent use of dreary English locations, the action ticks by rather soullessly.

Apart from the title barely being explained, a central problem is Petrofsky's nominal role in his own plot. Deploying a singular glare, Pierce Brosnan is left stranded, his character hired to push a button and otherwise reduced to a courier zooming on his motorcycle this way then that to collect pieces of the bomb, but not even tasked with assembling the components. Petrofsky has to kill a few people to keep the plot on course, but most of his victims are extras.

Much better is John Preston, navigating the bureaucracy of the British secret service and dealing with a buffoon of a careerist boss (Julian Glover as a suitably despicable pencil pusher). Michael Caine never needs to stretch, but ensures sustained watchability as the political Cold War subtext is presented with potent urgency. Public opinion in Britain is portrayed as turning against militarization, and especially opposed to the deployment of American bombers equipped with nuclear weapons. Govorshin of course times the detonation to coincide with thousands of protesters gathering at the NATO base.

Serviceable but not quite notable, The Fourth Protocol offers adequate ticks and borrowed tocks.

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Sunday, 16 January 2022

Movie Review: North Country (2005)

A sexual harassment drama, North Country reveals the horrors of workplace bigotry directed at women trying to make a living.

The setting is northern Minnesota in 1989. With her two children in tow, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) escapes an abusive relationship and takes shelter at the home of her parents Hank and Alice (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek). To support herself she accepts the advice of her friend Glory (Frances McDormand) and takes a job at the local iron mine, where Hank works.

Josey finds the mine dominated by misogynistic and abusive men hostile to all the women workers. She is consistently subjected to demeaning insults, particularly from her manager Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner). Josey and Bobby knew each other from high school days, and now he persistently humiliates her with unwanted sexual advances. Both the union and management refuse to intervene. While the other women accept the abuse as part and parcel of the workplace, Josey reaches her limit and decides to take a stand, with help from lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson).

Inspired by the true story of Lois Jenson as chronicled in the book Class Action by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler, North Country is a polished but also traditional workers' rights drama, highlighting a milestone case that set new standards for protecting women. Michael Seitzman's script combines courtroom face-offs, harrowing scenes of workplace cruelty, and Josey's hardscrabble life, and director Niki Caro weaves together a story about the quest for basic respect. 

The depictions of workplace harassment inject a large dose of exasperated anger at a culture that can harbour unconscionable acts and tolerate - indeed protect - atrocious male behaviour. The women's reactions and survival tactics are presented on a spectrum, from Glory insulating herself with a union role, to Big Betty (Rusty Schwimmer) shrugging it off, while others like Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs. As Josey raises concerns and starts to push back, the men retaliate with worse treatment, and the women exorcise Josey as a troublemaker threatening their livelihood.

But in some ways North Country tackles too much story. Josey's history, which of course becomes a topic of courtroom cross-examination, includes a high school encounter with a teacher, then an abusive relationship. Caro is sometimes at risk of trying to focus on too many directions at once, and in addition to the mine as employer, more than one man are presented as predators and placed in the position of pseudo-defendants. The melodramatics at the conclusion of the cinematic court case are also over-cooked to a crisp.

But an excellent cast helps overcome the weaker moments, with Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand the standouts. Theron is most effective during moments with her family, while McDormand deploys a hard shell at the workplace then navigates a life-altering disease. 

Peripheral themes add essential texture, including an inter-generational conflict within the family: Josey's father Hank instinctively agrees the mine is no place for women. Meanwhile Josey's struggles to be a good mom provide a warm flow to her tumultuous life, the troubled relationship with son Sammy an always spiky source of tension. Glory's husband Kyle (Sean Bean) plays a small but pivotal role with Sammy, and Woody Harrelson delivers an effectively low-key performance as a former high school hockey star turned lawyer with emotional scars of his own.

Expertly calibrating infuriation with triumphalism, North Country stands up for dignity.

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Saturday, 15 January 2022

Movie Review: Gold (1974)

A thriller set in the high-stakes mining industry, Gold is ambitious but uneven. 

The setting is South Africa, where an explosion at the Sonderditch gold mine results in multiple fatalities despite the best rescue efforts of underground manager Rod Slater (Roger Moore). The explosion was caused during an unsanctioned dig towards an underground dike ordered by the mine's director Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman), who is married to Terry (Susannah York), the granddaughter of the mine's owner Hurry Hirschfeld (Ray Milland).

Manfred is part of an evil international syndicate led by London-based gold investor Farrell (John Gielgud). By breaching the dike and flooding Sonderditch and adjacent mines, the syndicate aims to profit on the markets. The unsuspecting Slater is promoted to general manager, and also starts an affair with Terry. Manfred orders Slater and his crews to dig towards the dike, and potential disaster. 

With Roger Moore enjoying international fame after his first 007 outing, producer Michael Klinger assembles a Bond-like crew featuring director Peter Hunt, editor John Glen, production designer Syd Cain, and titles designer Maurice Binder. Gold is a not-bad adaptation of a Wilbur Smith book, the Stanley Price script not lacking in scope, characters, locations, and effort.

The film starts and ends strongly. The opening is literally a bang, the dangerous world of mining introduced through an explosion and breathless rescue operation. The climax is a similarly thrilling race to avert a complete catastrophe. In between, the narrative chugs along but the pace slows as the conspiracy unfolds slowly and plenty of screen time is occupied by a rather tepid romance between Slater and Terry.

Mostly filmed in apartheid-era South Africa, Gold features plenty of travelogue material and sometimes cringey attempts to avoid the obvious. Only one character is overtly racist, and Black culture is represented through tribal dances and soccer matches. Black miner King (Simon Sabela) has a prominent and heroic role, but it's a whites-only affair at the cocktail parties and serious meetings.

John Gielgud's ruthless market manipulator and Bradford Dillman's slimy germophobe combine for a potent duo of antagonists lined up against Moore's unbuttoned-shirt heroics. The production values are adequate, and the film enjoys a reasonable layer of gloss. Gold may not bedazzle, but neither is it dull.

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Movie Review: Margin Call (2011)

A Wall Street drama, Margin Call digs into the triggers of the Great Recession with cold-eyed pragmatism.

In 2008, a New York City investment bank goes through a round of layoffs. On the same day, risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) uses data provided by laid-off risk manager Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) to uncover a looming crisis of worthless investment assets about to bankrupt the bank - and the entire industry. Peter alerts his boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and trading floor manager Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who quickly advise their boss Jared Cohen (Simon Barker) and chief of risk management Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore).

By the middle of the night CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) is convening meetings to plot out a survival strategy. Jared supports a "first out" plan to dump the toxic assets onto the unsuspecting market the very next morning, financially saving the bank but damaging its reputation and triggering a market crash. Loyal to the bank but perturbed by the immorality of ordering his team to sell soon-to-be worthless assets, Sam is less enthusiastic about the plan.

A fictional account inspired by real events and most closely resembling what may have happened at investment bank Goldman Sachs, Margin Call unfolds like a gripping play. Director and writer J.C. Chandor introduces a few outdoor scenes, but the focus is on 36 critical hours inside the bank's offices, where analysts, managers, and executives suddenly come face to face with an existential worst-case scenario. Through their actions, Chandor teases out some hard truths about capitalism.

With diverse personalities generating impressive dynamics, this is a thriller about the flow of information and the essence of grasping criticality and then acting, including meetings convened at 2am. Sullivan is no less than a rocket scientist (literally), who chose a Wall Street career because the money is better. His manager Will is a realist; his boss Sam is a motivator. Up the ladder at the level of Jared and ultimately Tuld, the whys and details don't matter: only the trends, implications, and necessary next steps.

Chandor avoids the trap of simplistically portraying Wall Street bankers as profit-hungry vultures. Self-deprecation is in evidence, as is recognition of long-term boom and bust cycles. Trading in debt-saddled assets is described as the lubrication keeping the economy afloat and juicing the dream. Will eloquently describes the ethics of economic fairness to young risk analyst Seth (Penn Badgley):

If people want to live like this, with their big cars and these houses that they haven't even paid for, then you are necessary. The only reason they can continue to live like kings is because we've got our fingers on the scale in THEIR favor. And if I were to take my finger off...then the whole world gets really fucking fair, really fucking quickly. And no one wants that, they say they do...but they don't.

Not all the elements click. Chandor could have trusted the audience with a better description of the flaws within mortgage backed securities, and he appears unsure what to do with the character of risk manager Eric Dale, whose work uncovers the crisis just as he is being escorted out of the building. Dale becomes the subject of an aimless search adding little to the drama. Demi Moore also suffers with an underwritten role as the humourless Sarah Robertson, unconvincingly stuck somewhere between conspirator and victim.

But overall the ensemble cast members share the screen time and bring their characters to animated life, benefiting from the sharp-edged script. Paul Bettany and Simon Barker leave the best impression, while Jeremy Irons adds a dash of Machiavellian leadership. The dialogue exchanges embrace increasingly cut-throat realities as the long night progresses, some careers boosted, a few lost, others damaged but left standing, at least until the next inevitable crisis.

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