The Outsider


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Outsider
"Barratier assumes that his viewers will have enough understanding of the basic process to figure out what's going on."

In January 2008 one of France's biggest banks, the Société Générale, lost €4.9 billion during just three days of trading. It blamed a single 'rogue' individual, Jérôme Kerviel, a 31 year old who had been its employ for eight years, claiming that he was a 'computer genius' who had somehow managed to make riskier and riskier trades -with sums of money way over his official limit - without anyone noticing. To what extent this is true and to what extent they turned a blind eye whilst they were gaining from his practices remains disputed. Kerviel put his side of the story in a book - L'Engrenage : Mémoires D'Un Trader - which became a bestseller in France. That book is what this film is based on.

The problem this creates from the outset is one that editors of memoirs are all too familiar with. Absent the happy accident of the author possessing natural charisma or literary flair, there is really only one route through which to pursue a change in readers' sympathies, and that is to persuade them that the said author is an everyman, somebody they couldn't possibly fail to relate to. In other words, he has to be bland. On the big screen, Arthur Dupont captures this quality all too well. His version of Kerviel is the young innocent led astray by the rough and tumble of the trading floor, a youth from the middle office overwhelmed by a culture in which hiding profits is par for the course, like shouting at underlings and eating fish alive. Increasingly addicted to gambling at his terminal and to the attention that his big successes gain him, he continually raises the stakes, but this is the only real means that director Christophe Barratier has for raising the tension.

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Subplots involving a romance and the fate of a trader who gets unlucky hold passable interest but fail to provide much emotional resonance. What does work is the depiction of the trading process itself. It's simplified, of course - reduced for the most part to simple numbers with negotiation and persuasion cut out - but there are none of the audience-friendly primers that interrupt the action in the likes of The Big Short. Barratier assumes that his viewers will have enough understanding of the basic process to figure out what's going on. This makes it more appealing to people with experience of the financial marketplace - who will also be amused by the sly signifiers of Kerviel's naivety - and avoids the risk of patronising viewers. It also enables newcomers to learn as Kerviel does, picking up on critical concerns at the same time.

A fairly straightforward account of events if not an unbiased one, The Outsider may actually fare better internationally than it did in France, where the story is already very well known. It's a useful contribution to the set of films telling the story of the financial crises of the early 21st Century, but unless you already have an interest in that subject, not an especially compelling one.

Reviewed on: 01 Jun 2018
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The rise and fall of an ambitious and unethical trader in the Société Générale.

Director: Christophe Barratier

Writer: Christophe Barratier, Laurent Turner

Starring: Arthur Dupont, François-Xavier Demaison, Sabrina Ouazani, Tewfik Jallab, Thomas Coumans

Year: 2016

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: France


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