Rogue Trader (1999)
7/10
Pulling non-existent rabbits out of imaginary hats
27 July 2005
A cunning scoundrel in exotic Singapore single-handedly brings down Barings Bank, established two centuries ago and one of England's foremost financial institutions. Another wildly improbable sting flick? Not at all - the story is based on actual events and the film sticks pretty close to the facts. Nick Leeson, brilliant and ambitious young trader, superstar of the Singapore stock market, incurs staggering losses. Unwilling to jeopardize his prospects for advancement, he tries to cover his tracks by pulling non-existent rabbits out of imaginary hats. The literally gut-wrenching stress of this Sisyphusian endeavor is illustrated by Leeson's frequent bouts of vomiting (while in prison, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor along with part of his colon and large intestine, and chemotherapy after being released). The film's flaw is that it glosses over the bank's role in the disaster. Barings turned a neophyte loose in an foreign arena with total control of the operation and minimal supervision. Putting the same individual in charge of both the front office and back office bypasses the appropriate checks and balances, and is tantamount to having the fox guard the hen-house. The official report of the Bank of England concluded that Barings' failure to segregate Leeson's duties was "reprehensible," and those with "direct executive responsibility for establishing effective controls must bear much of the blame." Yet little mention is made of this in the film. And the mechanizations of the stock market are downright incomprehensible at times. Nevertheless, this is an interesting story and Ewan McGregor turns in another outstanding performance.
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