A contemporary feel-good tale about the downfall of an unscrupulous, vauntingly avaricious bank executive, “The Bank” is likely to find appreciative audiences wherever corporate greed is an issue. The well-constructed screenplay, by first-time director Robert Connolly, previously known as a producer (“The Boys,” “The Monkey’s Mask,” and a 1999 Variety producer to watch) will connect with anyone who ever had a bad experience with a bank or finance company, and provides a satisfyingly loathsome character in Anthony LaPaglia’s engaging protrayal of a corporate shark. With hot Aussie actor David Wenham in the lead, pic should score in Australia and rates a good chance for niche release elsewhere, with solid ancillary. It’s also a tasty fest treat, and is likely to be seen on the circuit this summer.
Opening sequence, set in 1977, depicts a small town bank manager visiting a country school with free gifts of piggy banks for the children. This longstanding tradition was designed to attract young savers to the kindly bank in question, which in this case is given the moniker Central Bank of Victoria. The kindly man from the bank also gives each child 50 cents to start a lifetime of saving, but only one bright youngster appears to comprehend the concept of compound interest.
Moving ahead to the present, that bright youngster, Jim Doyle (Wenham) is now a computer genius who, with his Japanese partner, has developed an intricate program that can predict fluctuations in the financial market. This program he successfully sells to Simon O’Reily (LaPaglia), the CEO of what is now called Centabank and a smooth operator being pressured by his board to cut costs and raise profits. This is being achieved by closing rural and suburban bank branches and foreclosing on dozens of small borrowers caught in the current financial downturn.
Latest victims of the bank’s drive for greater profits are Wayne and Diane Davis (Steve Rodgers, Mandy McElhinney) who financed a houseboat operation by means of an offshore loan brokered by Centabank. The bank’s pressure on this homely couple results in a tragedy involving their small son, and Wayne’s decision to have his revenge on the bank which, as he sees it, has ruined his family.
Meanwhile Jim and his program, which he calls BTSE (Bank Training Simulation Experiment) — “He’s named it after a cow,” complains O’Reily — have been embraced by Centabank, and he’s given a team of experts with which to work on predicting the next downturn so that the bank can profit from it.
Rest of the well-paced and always involving pic cross-cuts between the Davises, who decide to bring their grievance against the bank to court and hire an idealistic attorney (Mitchell Butel) to represent them, and Jim, who becomes romantically involved with Michelle (Sibylla Budd), a bank employee, while perfecting the scheme which, supposedly, will greatly enhance the profits of the bank and the ambitions of O’Reily.
That events are resolved quite differently from initial expectations is part of the fun to be found in Connolly’s skillful screenplay. In fact, the writer-director keeps a few twists to the plot up his sleeve before the film’s satisfactory, Capra-esque, conclusion.
It’s a smart, witty film which, for commercial success, relies on attracting audiences impatient with corporate skullduggery and globalization. In that respect, the timing probably couldn’t be better, and the handsome, though modestly budgeted, production could tap into audiences’ concerns about the way the world is heading.
David Wenham contributes a smooth performance in the leading role, though audience identification with the character may be hampered by the fact that, for most of the running time, his motives are obscure. Anthony LaPaglia seizes every opportunity to enliven the role of the odious but utterly charming O’Reily, an executive who passionately believes in the survival of the fittest and the allure of gambling with other people’s money. As vain as he is ruthless, the elegant O’Reilly memorably proclaims, at one point that: “I’m like God, with a better suit.”
In a generally well-cast film, Rodgers and McElhinney are standouts as the singularly deglamorized and ordinary’ couple whose appalling treatment at the hands of the bank triggers a key section of the action. Pic’s main flaw is that the character of Michelle, though charmingly played by Budd, isn’t written with the same degree of insight as the other characters; her instant attraction for Jim is one of the film’s few false notes.
Production values are excellent, with some particularly well-depicted computer-generated footage.