[Movie Review] The Bank

The BankStarring: Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Sibylla Budd
Director: Robert Connolly
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

After seeing “The Bank” back in 2002 I thought the recent travails of the financial sector was an ideal time to revisit a movie that puts moral considerations head-to-head with financial ones.

Jim Doyle (David Wenham) is a top mathematician who has developed a complex program that predicts stock market movements and corrections. He hawks it around the banks and under-pressure bank executive Simon O’Reily (Anthony LaPaglia) takes a punt on him. For Jim it is a labour of love which he sees as an ideal “warning system” to help organisations protect their interests. For Simon it is a unique opportunity to put the bank in an advantageous situation and make obscene amounts of money.

Simon will have to convince “bleeding heart liberal” Jim that taking other people’s money is fair game in the trading world. Jim is countenanced by (really) sudden love-interest Michelle (Sibylla Budd) and the bank’s own numbers guru, Vincent (Greg Stone).

Meanwhile, in a separate story strand, we see the financially-stricken Davis family (Steve Rodgers and Mandy McElhinney) who are struck by personal tragedy, a tragedy for which they indirectly attribute blame to the bank (although initially ambiguous, we correctly assume that it is the bank Simon runs). A reluctant solicitor (Mitchell Butel) agrees to represent them in a court case that brings the two story strands together.

Can Jim perfect his program and, if he does, will he allow Simon to abuse it for financial gain? Will he have a choice?

An Australian production, I recalled enjoying “The Bank” immensely and the years in between have done it no harm at all. Written and directed by Robert Connolly, at 104 minutes it’s a well-paced and occasionally suspenseful film that is filled with simple layers of intrigue and a twist that feels just about right.

Anthony LaPaglia never fails to entertain and he is undoubtedly the star of the show here. He’s always comfortable on screen and convincingly pulls off lines like “I’m God, but with a better suit”, then later on shines in a Pacino-style rant when faced with a life-or-death situation.

Wenham has had his film success too albeit with smaller roles (“300”, “Van Helsing”, parts 2 and 3 of “Lord of the Rings”, “Moulin Rouge”) and he is absolutely fine here. His romance with the annoying Michelle is necessary for the story but it never really clicks.

In parts the movie lacks subtlety. The director casts the most ordinary actors in terms of talent and looks in order to portray the Davis family as “Everyman” as possible. It’s also pretty obvious that we’re to be repulsed by the dismissive regard that the bank has for the Davis’ court action and the tasteless jokes that Simon’s aides make about the family. But these are minor criticisms in what is a surprisingly winning thriller.

The tagline says it all: Public enemy number one – The Bank.

3halfstar

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[Movie Review] 29th Street

29th StreetStarring: Danny Aiello, Anthony LaPaglia, Lainie Kazan
Director: George Gallo
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 1991

“29th Street” is the semi-autobiographical account of the life of Frank Pesce (who stars in the role of his own brother in the movie), a directionless, young Italian-American who hits it lucky when he is entered in the first ever New York State lottery.

Everyone is convinced that Frank is going to win such has been the amazing luck he has experienced during his life. Compare this to his hard-working, blue collar father who has endured, rather than enjoyed, his.

While the screenplay is solid and deals well with the opposing issues of love and resentment, it’s the two central performances that primarily shine. Anthony LaPaglia (playing Frank) became my favourite actor once I saw this movie in 1992. His ability to play different shades, delivers goosepimples as he delivers his lines. It’s a masterful performance by a man as relatively inexperienced as he was then.

Screen veteran Danny Aiello (playing his father), is perfectly cast as an honest but occasionally maladroit man whose influence over his family visibly decreases by the day.

“29th Street” is an engaging sleeper hit.

4star

[Movie Review] Brilliant Lies

Brilliant LiesStarring: Anthony LaPaglia, Gia Carides, Zoe Carides, Catherine Wilkin, Neil Melville
Director: Richard Franklin
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 1996

Suzy Connor (Gia Carides) is accusing her boss Gary Fitzgerald (LaPaglia) of sexual harrasment. Although Gary has had a few indiscretions in the past, he flatly denies the claims and is backed up by his boss, Vince (Melville). However, unless the company pay what Suzy is demanding, it will go to court and that is something that Fitzgerald cannot allow happen. Willing to settle out-of-court, he scoffs at her $40,000 demands and the pair go head-to-head to find out who is lying and who is telling the truth.

“Brilliant Lies” plays out like a stage play, heavy on characterisation and pretty much straight to the point. We see the main protagonists painted both black and white. We see Suzy as both the abused woman, and the drug-taking party girl. Gary is the suave womaniser and also a convincing protester of his innocence. On the periphary are chacters that are just as important to the story.

Vince seems to be standing by Gary’s side but Gary suspects that Vince does not believe him. Suzy’s feminist sister, Zoe, wants to believe her but refuses to lie for her. Both sisters are traumitised by their abusive father, Brian (Ray Barrett), and made feel guilty for their dislike for him by their brother, Paul (Michael Veitch), who is unaware of the abuse. In the middle of it all is the tribunal mediator, Marion Lee (Wilkin), who must balance the claims of each party.

The screenplay is not over-brimming with wonderful wit or insight, but it is competent. The two best known actors here are unsurprisingly the main two characters, but the support cast are by no means put to shame. While Zoe Carides and Michael Veitch give somewhat empty performances, Catherine Wilkin excels as the middle-person while Neil Melville is equally adept at portraying the business associate of LaPaglia. Special mention goes to Ray Barrett whose portrayal of failed businessman and groping father, Brian Connor, is so seedy and yet hilarious, that against your best wishes you can’t help but make him the man you love to hate.

By no means an authority on the subject, “Brilliant Lies” is however a watchable and entertaining look at the battle of the sexes.

3star

[Movie Review] Summer of Sam

Summer of SamStarring: John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Adrien Brody, Anthony LaPaglia
Director: Spike Lee
Genre: Drama
Cert: 18
Released: 1999

In the 1970s, New York was shaken by what was known as the “Son of Sam” murders. A satanical serial killer, called David Berkowitz, murdered late-night lovers parked in lay-bys and threw the whole city into panic and disarray.

Spike Lee takes the scenario and studies the effect that this time of uncertainty had in the life of a small band of friends. Philandiring hairdresser, Vinny (Leguizamo – “Spawn”, “Romeo + Juliet”, “The Fan”, “Carlito’s Way”), is married to Dionna (Sorvino – “Mimic”, “Beautiful Girls”, Oscar Winner for role in “Mighty Aphrodite”). Vinny is notorious in his neighbourhood as a likeable smart-alec, but he’s got a womanising problem despite his obvious love for his wife. Dionna is a sweetheart, seemingly oblivious to Vinny’s ways but loyal to him and eager to please. In fact she is so eager to please, she even goes as far as to ask an ex-girlfriend of Vinny’s what sort of things he likes in bed.

Enter Ritchie (Brody – “Thin Red Line”), MIA for a while, he returns to the neighbourhood decked out as a punk rocker, complete with irritating over-emphasised London accent, desperately doing his best to ensure he never fits into society. We also meet a small selection of Vinny and Ritchie’s other friends, most of whom spend their time loitering around the streets and selling drugs.

A misconception about “Summer of Sam” is that it is a film about David Berkowitz. It is not. With few of the actual murders shown, the focus of the film are the characters who are affected by the serial killer hysteria which grips New York. It shows how kings of the neighbourhood like local mobster, Luigi (Ben Gazzara – “Big Lebowski”, “Thomas Crown Affair”), get shaken enough by the killer that they end up joining the cops in helping to track him down. We see Vinny terrified after having what he believes was a close run in with the killer, get a look at how fathers fret for the safety of their daughters and how all the young women are getting their hair dyed blonde after it becomes apparent that the killer likes to kill brunettes.

But “Summer of Sam” is a miserable failure in just about all areas. With little coverage of Berkowitz himself and hardly any exposure of the cops who are chasing him, the movie depends on the characters who are affected by the murders. Outside of the excellent Sorvino, few of the others deliver performances that are bearable. Brody’s punk-rock misfit role is as annoying a character as I’ve ever seen in a movie, and Leguizamo’s sleazy, womanising turn is one of the most unlikable celluloid appearances in a long time. I was longing for him to be killed and felt no sympathy for him throughout.

There is a small amount of entertainment to be gained from Vinny’s drug-dealing friends who are shown drawing up a short-list of likely and unlikely suspects for the Son of Sam. Eventually this leads to them forming a vigilante group which attacks anyone they suspect to be the killer – guilty until proven innocent. Obviously this is part of Lee’s attempt to display how people’s sense of reality and morality (these are drug dealers!) is lost in times of hysteria. But it is too late by then and your interest has waned so much that you long for the whole cast to be taken out.

I’m not Spike Lee’s biggest fan by any means, but this feature really must be his worst. Full of gratuitous sex and needless coarse language, “Summer of Sam” is unwatchable and utterly boring from start to finish.

1star