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« Interview: Director Elite Zexer on Israel's Oscar Submission 'Sand Storm'| Main| Judy by the Numbers: "I Hear Music"»
Sep 28 2016

NYFF - Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Here'sJasonreporting from the New York Film Festival with the latest doc from the director ofHoop Dreams.

At firstAbacus: Small Enough to Jailplays like a game of chicken that director Steve James is playing with our sympathies - Bankers,the premiere villains of the 21st century,who might as well come with their own lightning strike and accompanying thunder-crack on the soundtrack,are here our Heroes.You'd be forgiven for spending the first act or so asking yourself,as the drama unfolds - am I really sympathizing with these people?

And James doesn't mess around,aiming straight for our sentimental jugulars...

We're introduced to our protagonist Thomas Sung (whose Chinatown based bank Abacus was the only US bank prosecuted by the government in the wake of the 2008 financial crash) and his wife as they watch the good-hearted cash-shuffling antics of apple-pie-eyed Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed inIt's a Wonderful Life."Remember when bankers were good guys,"the film posits,and if you're anything like me you'll me you'll be skeptical as all get out.

Which ends up working for the drama of the film,since it's plain that James is on the Sungs' side the whole time - I had my doubts that they could possibly win me over,that I could possibly root for the bankers.But it turns out that Mr.Sung and his wife and his four daughters (three of whom work for the bank and one of whom worked for the D.A.'s office,which is a great twist only real-life is capable of) are delights to spend our time with,with great rapport and respect and love for one another.Mrs.Sung is especially a stand-out - she seems as skeptical as the rest of us of the Banking Industry,and would rather her family just ate well and went for a walk with her sometimes.And all the time James etches out a fine and specific portrait of a small neighborhood in a big city - our own Bedford Falls buried just beneath Canal Street.

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