Eye For Film >> Movies >> Rogue Trader (1999) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
The collapse of Barings Bank in the City of London, after 200 years of private ownership, was either a tragedy or a triumph, depending on where you stand. For Peter Baring, the urbane, energetic chairman (played in the film by John Standing as an upper-class fuddy duddy), it must have been a living nightmare. For those who see the futures market as an obscene crap game, invented by bankers to pay for their six figure bonuses, it was the ultimate comeuppance.
In the midst of this human drama, involving a bulwark of the British establishment, one question remains unanswered. How could it have happened? How could one man have the capacity, or the authority, to lose so much money without anyone noticing? Was it gross incompetence, head office negligence or criminal deceipt?
Don't look to Rogue Trader for enlightenment. Writer/director James Dearden sees it as a class affair. Nick Leeson (Ewan McGregor), a plasterer's son from Essex, represented "the barrow boys who are turning the City around". He's a bit of a lad, while in the boardroom the toffs are frightfully polite, and seemingly clueless about what the Singapore office is doing, except whacking up whopping great profits. Three cheers, what?
The film-makers have a problem. No one is going to understand what merchant bankers do, especially this futures lark. The scenes on the trading floor of Singapore's International Monetary Exchange, the bear pit where shouting, gesticulating Chinese-looking people in garish blazers behave like ill-disciplined school kids, are incomprehensible. The cooking of the books - Neeson raided one account to bolster another, planning to repay when the markets changed - is gibberish to those who cannot cope with anything more complex than a savings account.
That leaves Neeson, who, in the wider context of Barings' demise, is not an interesting man. He does deals, he makes love to his wife (excellent, underused Anna Friel), he gets drunk with mates and has a chip on his shoulder that doesn't show "out there" because everyone's a chancer. McGregor has the charm. He's always had that. It's in the smile. He also has bad skin. Perfect for the role. What else? Not much. You wish movies told the truth a bit more. Neeson as working-class hero doesn't wash. Peter Baring as pompous old fool doesn't, either. Somewhere, there's a story to tell. Somewhere else.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001