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The Bank

Year: 2001
Production Co: ArenaFilm
Director: Robert Connolly
Producer: John Maynard
Writer: Robert Connolly
Cast: David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Sybilla Budd, Steve Rodgers

To understand what Australian films usually get wrong and American movies do right, look no further than this underrated gem. If you asked me to articulate the difference clearly I don't even know if I could. It might be as simple as telling an interesting or thrilling story, but if it was that simple everybody would be able to do it.

It might be leaving your political or social conscience at the door of your office when you start to write a script, setting out to entertain instead of inspire, preach or depress - which it seems a lot of Australian movies aim for.

But writer/director Connolly (who's no stranger to movies with social consciences but still manages to make them interesting and entertaining, like the recent Balibo) took a corporate conspiracy thriller, a traditional movie hero, a girl, a twist and played it all straight, and the result is one of the best films to come from our shores. His approach was a lot like jean Luc Godard's declaration that all you need is a girl and a gun.

Jim (Wenham) is an algorithm whiz kid who writes a computer program that could make Centabank even more millions than they already make. Slimy CEO Simon (LaPaglia, looking much more animated than he did in Balibo) has a single aim, one he outlines in a board meeting as he tells colleagues they owe nothing to society and that shareholders are their society, the world thus theirs to plumb and exploit as they see fit.

Simon takes Jim into his confidence, puts the software through its paces and buys in, seeing dollar signs. And all the while, Jim's burgeoning relationship with Michelle (Budd) stumbles as she becomes increasingly troubled at his apparent selling out the The Man.

But there's more afoot than Simon, Michelle or the audience realises, and Jim secretly meeting an old hacker colleague from Japan is only the beginning.

It riffs on the high times of the 80s by making reference to the big swinging dicks of the Bonds, Skases and Elliotts of the time, shoots straight, taps into our social mistrust of banks and doesn't bury lectures in the subtext.

Budd deserves a bigger and better movie career than she has just for taking part in a film like this (along with Mark Lee's The Bet) which set out to entertain and thrill in worlds of big company workplaces, computers and mobile phones that are familiar rather than the depressing and endless mental-illness-in-the-suburbs and coming-of-age-in-the-country dramas.

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