The Good: Some very funny lines, Moments of economics education, Performances are decent-enough
The Bad: Painfully predictable, Generally unimpressive characters, Intrusive soundtrack
The Basics: Breaking The Bank has moments of cleverness and has some surprisingly funny lines, but does not add up to a great film.
After playing Frasier Crane on television for over twenty years, no actor gets a pass on what projects they take quite like Kelsey Grammer. It seems perfectly reasonable that Grammer would be eager to take any job that allowed him to play a character that was different from Frasier Crane. In Breaking The Bank he has that at least.
Breaking The Bank is like a British version of The Big Short (reviewed here!) and treated as an actual comedy. Instead of focusing on the perspective of ethical people who try to profit from regulatory problems in the financial industry, Breaking The Bank is a caper focused on how a big bank is scammed and its executive works to regain all he lost, using the greed of a man as unethical as the executive is stupid.
Charles Bunbury is an executive at Tufton's Bank, where he has become Chairman through his wife's influence (her family is the bank's largest single stockholder). After a party where Bunbury is approached by an American investment banker, Dick Grinding, and a Japanese investor, he learns that the bank has invested quite a bit in terrible mortgage loans. Bunbury's analyst, Graham, wants to issue an investment warning, while his investment executive, Nick, wants to recoup the bank's losses through an investment in a natural gas firm. Charles liquidates most of his wife's pension fund to invest in Nurgistan Gas.
When Nurgistan Gas fracks in an earthquake zone, Charles loses his wife's fortune and the bad investments Nick made become public, tanking Tufton's stock. When Interglobal (the Americans) buy up Tufton's for a song, Charles loses everything - Penelope leaves, he finds himself unemployable, and his hippie daughter expresses only disdain for him. Charles quickly realizes that Nick orchestrated the events that ruined his life. While Charles finds himself on the street living near a crazy guy named Oscar, Penelope is wooed by Grinding, who wants her to rebuild the bank and make it profitable again. Charles reunites with his daughter and Honshu Bank to stop Grinding and ruin Nick.
Breaking The Bank, like The Big Short attempts to educate viewers on some big economic issues, like subprime loans, shorting stocks, and how big banking works, and it is entertaining while it educates. Unfortunately, in the process of educating the viewer, the analogies used by Oscar do not include the potential negative consequences (explicitly) of losing the bet that is shorting a stock. As a result, the conclusion of the film - though obvious and telegraphed well in advance (Breaking The Bank is "that kind of movie") - is presented more opaquely than it ought to have been. In a similar fashion, the explanation of Penelope's reaction to the return of the car - after the viewer sees her reaction - is just sloppy storytelling.
The plot of Breaking The Bank is predictable in that it is set up very much as a caper with the obvious villain, competing investors, marriage troubles, and estranged daughter. The subplot with Graham and Sophie feels very tacked on, though he is a likable character and the necessary "inside man" to execute the plot resolution.
Breaking The Bank is, actually, funny. Lines about marriage, economic impropriety, and threatening to stab a man in the eye with a tampon (it's the only thing in her purse!) are delivered with an expert sense of comic timing by Kelsey Grammer, Tamsin Greig, and John Michael Higgins. Mathew Horne's role of Nick is pretty monolithic as he is a greedy, capitalist villain, but Sonya Cassidy finds the right balance to make Annabel a credible character. Annabel first appears in Breaking The Bank almost as a parody of a young activist, but she makes statements that are both delightfully ironic and true - like how financial crisis's occur just around the time that the people who fixed the last greed-based economic crisis retire from their positions. Statements like that make for some insightful and funny lines.
Unfortunately, between the funny lines and decent deliveries of those lines, Breaking The Bank is a bit low on substance. The characters are hard to empathize with and they are more often vehicles for the plot events than actualized beings the viewer is watching. In simpler terms; watching Breaking The Bank, the viewer is very aware they are watching a movie, as opposed to being captivated by the story and the characters.
Breaking The Bank is not a bad film; it sets out with an ambitious premise that it attempts to entertain with. The movie is entertaining and generally well-delivered, but the ambitious ideas it attempt to educate the viewer about are presented with decidedly mixed results.
For other new films, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Beyond
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© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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