The Bank Review

Jim Doyle (David Wenham) is a mathematical genius who is working on a chaos-theory based system for predicting the ups and downs of the stock market. Simon O’Reilly (Anthony LaPaglia), the American CEO of Melbourne’s Centabank, is very interested in what Jim has to offer. At first all goes well: Jim is in Simon’s confidence and it looks like they’ll be making a lot of money together. But what is Jim really up to?

The Bank is a smart, entertaining thriller that begins in Wall Street territory, but a twist in the latter stages turns the film on its head. A feature debut for Robert Connolly, it’s a film of considerable assurance that falls a little short of being truly excellent. As becomes clear very early on from Connolly’s commentary, he’s very aware of how the film should be constructed (three acts with a prologue and epilogue), what the audience should expect from the genre (Jim gets a girlfriend – played by Sibylla Budd – who plays some part in unravelling certain areas of the plot) and precisely where and how to lead and mislead the viewer. Herein lies the major problem with The Bank: so much of Jim’s personality and background is withheld from the audience until late on that he’s too much of a blank slate to be a truly engaging character. When he commits a despicable act (lying in court to discredit a case against Centabank) it almost derails the film. Jim gets berated by two people close to him and vomits in self-disgust, but it’s not quite enough. Wenham is a capable actor with leading-man looks, who won critical acclaim for The Boys (which Connolly produced) and was well used in the rather lightweight Better Than Sex, but he can’t quite pull this off. (He’s about to become much better known outside Australia when he appears as Faramir in the second and third parts of The Lord of the Rings.) For all Anthony LaPaglia’s best efforts, Simon O’Reilly remains an underwritten part: you could criticise Wall Street for being a film more than half in love with its villain, but compared to Gordon Gekko, O’Reilly is distinctly lacking in charisma.

On the plus side, Connolly shows considerable assurance on the technical side, and certainly knows how to tell his story with the maximum of clarity. (You don’t need to know anything about finance, or fractals, or chaos theory: all you need to be able to do is to follow two lines on a graph.) This is a very creditable debut, and I’ll be very interested to see what Connolly does next.

Madman, and their distribution arm The AV Channel, have a history of producing well-thought-out, high quality DVD packages, and their edition of The Bank is no exception. However, certain nitpicks mean that the DVD stops short of true excellence. There’s little wrong with the picture, which is in a ratio of 16:9 and is anamorphic. Connolly and his DP Tristan Milani vary the colour scheme depending on location and plot thread. The scenes inside the bank are dominated by cold greys, while the location scenes use a more natural palette. A prologue showing Jim as a child at school has a golden tone. All this is well captured by the DVD transfer, though some aliasing effects in the usual places (cables, radiator grilles, venetian blinds) let it down. There’s nothing too distracting though. Judging by eye, it would seem that The Bank was intended to be shown in cinemas at 1.75:1; 16:9 is near enough to that ratio to make no difference. (The Internet Movie Database says that The Bank is in 2.35:1, but that’s clearly incorrect.)

The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1. Again, the sound design changes to reflect location. This isn’t the most active of multichannel soundtracks, but it does its job. The surrounds are used mainly for ambience, some sound effects and Alan John’s effective orchestral score. There are eighteen chapter stops, but unfortunately no subtitles of any kind.

Madman/AV Channel’s DVDs score highly for the extras they put together, and The Bank has a typically well-laid out and comprehensive selection. Connolly’s commentary is informative about how the film was made, and is thorough on structure, generic expectations and how they can be fulfilled or surprised. Would-be filmmakers might learn a lot from this.

All the extras are, like the feature, in anamorphic 16:9. Many of them contain spoilers, so I’d suggest watching them after you’ve seen the film. First up, there are two deleted scenes, which are introduced by editor Nick Meyers. The scenes are a little contrasty with a rough soundtrack, as you might expect. The two scenes have optional and separate commentary tracks from Connolly and Meyers. Including the introduction, this section runs 3:33.

The next section of the Extras Menu is “Production”. This comprises five featurettes: Connolly. They are “Original Concept” (2:48), “Production Design” (5:43), “Sound Design” (8:12), “Original Music” (6:05) and “Computer Graphics” (5:38). Each one features Connolly and, in all but the first, the relevant member of the crew. Oddly, there isn’t a section on cinematography, although the film’s look is discussed in the production design featurette. These are very interesting extras, highlighting areas of a film’s look and sound that add to the film without much of the audience being aware of them.

The next section is “Promotion”. First is a short (1:46) interview with producer John Maynard on the marketing of the film. This is followed by a spoiler-ridden trailer (1:57) and four TV spots. There are two which run 30 seconds each and two 15-second ones; strangely, the links from the menu page are in the wrong order. This section also contains the two Easter Eggs: highlight the fractal image on the right hand side of the trailer menu, and you’ll bring up an image of the programme booklet page and ticket stub for the film’s premiere at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival). For the second Egg, go to the main promotion menu and highlight the Mandelbrot Set image to the right: this brings up some promotional postcards.

Also in the Promotion section is “The Bank Book”. John Maynard introduces this item, where he commissioned work from four photographers (Max Creasy, Peter Milne, Matthew Sleeth and Danielle Thompson) to promote the film. A nice extra, but one crossing the line between usefulness and self-indulgence. There are also four pages of review quotes from the Australian media, and a 30-second TV ad for the ABC Classics soundtrack album. Finally, there are extracts from two awards ceremonies: the Australian Film Institute and the Independent Film Awards. The Bank was nominated for nine AFI awards and won one: the DVD includes 2:39 of video footage of Connolly accepting the award. The IF Award was won by Nick Meyers for Best Editing, and the footage runs 1:37. Both video clips are shown in a small 4:3 box in the middle of the screen.

The “Cast and Crew” section comprises short biographies of the principal cast, the director and producer. Nothing special here, except that the menu page is laid out like a page in a corporate glossy brochure: “the CEO”, “the teller”, “the director” and so on.

A commendable feature of many Madman/AV Channel DVDs is the inclusion of short films by the director. This disc has two, both with short introductions by Connolly. Mr Ikegami’s Flight, made in 1995, features Kazohiro Muroyama (who has a small role in The Bank). It runs 13:27 and is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. About half of the dialogue is in Japanese, translated by burned-in subtitles. The other short, Rust Bucket (1997) is of less interest: it’s in 4:3, again with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, and runs 7:03.

The final section of extras, “Madman Propaganda”, consists of trailers of recent and forthcoming DVD releases: Shadow of the Vampire, Mullet, La Spagnola and Pi.

The Bank is a film which for most of its length is an entertaining thriller which keeps the audience guessing. The DVD package contains over an hour of often excellent extras…as such this disc is well worth buying, for those who want to keep up with Australian cinema’s recent output, or for those who want to see a good thriller, regardless of its country of origin.

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