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Bottom-Line Feeder: Anthony LaPaglia plays a craven bank executive in Robert Connolly's financial morality tale.

Prophet of Loss

High finance and low cunning in 'The Bank'

By Richard von Busack

"I hate banks
I just can't stand 'em
Give me a shovel, and man, I'd plant 'em
Six feet under, that's where they belong.
'I Hate Banks' is the name of this song."
--Mojo Nixon

MOJO WOULD sympathize with the simple moral of The Bank, an Australian suspense film about a mathematical genius' crisis of conscience. Jim Doyle (David Wenham) creates a fractal program called "Bank Trading Simulation Experiment." Using the "nether regions of mathematics," Doyle believes he can predict stock market crashes with his system. He is the kind of uncouth academic who wears leather jackets to high-echelon business meetings and doodles his theories in ink on the white linen tablecloths of fancy restaurants.

Nevertheless, Doyle captures the attentions of a high executive at the well-endowed and extremely cruel Centrabank, formerly the folksy Bank of Central Victoria. Simon O'Reilly (Anthony LaPaglia), an ex-Wall Street trader, decides to give the impractical and naive Doyle lessons in the way business is done, and much of the movie becomes a war of souls between the good-hearted intellectual and this blood-thirsty tycoon.

LaPaglia has range, from the powerful crumbling-macho acting he shows in Lantana to the tiresome fixed scorn of the lesser Baldwin brothers. Mostly, he's like a Baldwin here, even with what I'm sure he considered tour-de-force dialogue. Some of the lines justify his faith: "You'd going to work a lot better with my foot on the back of your neck. It's a much underutilized management technique." However, most of director/screenwriter Robert Connolly's dialogue consists of inferior Gordon Gekkoisms. This film's prejudice against banks prohibits anything that sounds scarily logical. O'Reilly's habit of sitting up at the top floor of his bank alone at night, like a vampire, shows us what the director thinks of the likes of him. I never thought I'd miss that speech that goes something like "When I was 5, I had to fight dogs for bones if I wanted any dinner." But at least that kind of easy writing explains a businessman's hunger. The Bank is certain that O'Reilly is nothing but a shark.

The one who comes between the wavering disciple and this satanic teacher is a girl, of course. The pretty, slightly awkward Michelle (Sybilla Budd) has the old role of the woman counseling our hero not to lose his soul, though there is always the possibility that she's one of the bank's henchpeople.

A subplot about some other victims of the bank's devilry really doesn't wash, either. I'm just as antipathetic to banks as the next person, but in this particular situation, the chain of liability seems weak. (Plus the way Steve Rodgers, as the victim of the bank, confronts the evil O'Reilly is as too-much as the similar scene with Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine.) The Bank works as a social protest--letting us know that the same '80s greed that washed over America has hit Australia as well. But it works less well as a thriller; the principals are, respectively, too good and too evil to be involving.

The Bank (Unrated; 103 min.), directed and written by Robert Connolly, photographed by Tristan Milani and starring David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia.

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From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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