Dir: Robert Connolly. Australia. 2001. 106 mins.
This quality thriller's super-villain doesn't threaten the world from the usual fortified island - but although he's merely CEO of a profits-obsessed Melbourne bank, global domination is still his evil aim. Former successful producer (The Boys, The Monkey's Mask) Connolly's first feature as writer/director gets this modern hate figure to perfection, aided by an unrestrained performance from a sleek Anthony LaPaglia. "I just hate banks" is the climactic explanatory line from a revenging customer after much mayhem - and Australian festival and preview audiences have cheered the statement with glee. Some serious story improbabilities aside, this assured and gorgeously assembled film could well press similar anti-banking buttons round the world. It also appears as part of the Discovery programme at the Toronto film festival next month
Simon O'Reilly (LaPaglia), self-described as "God in a better suit", is under pressure for ever-larger profits from his grim-faced Centabank board, so cunningly employs mathematical wizard Jim Doyle (Wenham), who claims to be on the verge of perfecting "the Holy Grail of economic theory", accurate stock market predictions via a "chaos theory based computer programme that can evolve". Giving the quiet young genius unlimited access to roomfuls of computers (all featuring beautiful and highly convincing graphics by Sheldon Gardner), Simon concentrates on minor matters such as corruptly cheating a sad couple out of their houseboat business which had been financed by one of the bank's illegal offshore loans.
Eventually, after successful dry runs against models of earlier global crashes, Jim's programme is ready to predict the exact course of a coming worldwide stocks and shares disaster - just as the desperate houseboat man has tracked down Simon's luxury home.
There are problems with the narrative. Wenham's underprepared switch midpoint from intense swot to lying company man is highly dubious. And if you find it hard to accept that a computer programme - however well-funded its creation, however brilliant its creator - would ever be able to predict the exact path of a stock market crash, then much of Connolly's careful ploy development will be unbelievable, more fantasy James Bond than real-life bonds.
Others, looking for a smoothly heightened Hitchcockian adventure, excellently framed (Tristan Milani makes the $A5 million budget look three or four times bigger) and excitingly scored (Alan John's orchestral music is brilliantly Herrmannesque), will be happy to go along for the elegant, bank-bashing ride.
Prod co: Footprint Films
Aust dist: Palace Films
Int sales: Axiom Films
Producer: John Maynard
Scr: Robert Connolly
Cinematography: Tristan Milani
Prod : Luigi Pittorino
Ed: Nick Meyers
Music: Alan John
Main cast: David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Sibylla Budd