George W is newly President. Ben Affleck is entering rehab. And the dotcom bubble has well and truly burst leaving a big red hole where billion dollar speculators used to dream.
For Tom and Joshua Sterling (Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott) the timing sucks. One month they’re riding high, worth many millions of paper money on the back of Josh’s e-idea and Tom’s business savvy. The next they’re scrambling to keep the company alive.
It’s also a welcome showcase for Josh Hartnett’s most assured performance in quite some time.
His portrait of Tom is front and centre, and Hartnett holds our attention by giving us the brash, charismatic, arrogant player, then peeling back layers to reveal the character’s vulnerability, his loneliness, self-doubt, and need.
The way we see him turns on a dime when, by chance, he sees his old British girlfriend Sarrah (Naomie Harris) in a bar. Immediately all his bravado evaporates. He’s no longer dictating the scene. For the first time, he’s addressing someone as an equal.
As we get to know him better we see that his “front” is a compulsion to impress, and also a business strategy. If he can convince everyone he’s the best, then maybe he really can be what they want him to be. If you’ve seen the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, you will know that this kind of manic deception was endemic in the ballooning Wall Street E-conomy of the time.
The rather sadistic pleasure of the movie is in watching that balloon deflate, and the desperate denial that seems to be Tom’s only coping strategy.
This is a “cool” film, as far as emotional temperature goes. I don’t know if Rodman wrote it first as a play, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that were the case. There isn’t a lot of action, most of it plays out in dialogue scenes, and there are two or three set-piece speeches where Rodman/Tom lays out the core beliefs of the era. Even so, Austin Chick integrates the talk very smoothly with dispassionate, often silent observational scenes that reveal how isolated Tom really is from the other people in his life.
That “coolness” will be a barrier to some people. Tom isn’t a character you warm to – or if you do, it’s only after the longest of waits. It’s also frustrating, for a while, that we can’t seem to get a handle on just what it is that the brothers’ company – Landshark – does. It’s only when you realise that it doesn’t make any difference that the drama clicks into place.
There’s more than solid support from Naomi Harris, Robin Tunney, the guy who plays Bubs in The Wire (cleaned up very nicely here), and especially from Rip Torn as Tom’s decidedly unimpressed old man. And look out for a killer cameo from a certain rock n roll star.
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