Ambitious, wide-eyed boy Nick Leeson (Ewan McGregor) is determined to rise in the world and be more than a simple bank clerk. When his employers, Barings Bank, offer him the opportunity to go to Jakarta, Indonesia to sort out a problem that nobody else wants, he seizes the opportunity with both hands. In Jakarta, he meets and marries Lisa (Anna Friel), and together they go to Singapore when the bank offers him the job of setting up their future options trading operation. To save money, the bank allows Nick to operate the floor trading and the back office facilities, and force him to employ cheap, unskilled staff. His first year of trading is a big success, and he makes large profits for the bank, even though he has illegally broken trading rules and secretly covered up losses. Given more freedom, even more money, and continuing unchecked, Nick starts to make losses, and again attempts to trade out of them, but this time he comes unstuck as his illegal trading generates even bigger ...Written by
Mark Smith <email@example.com>
Based on Nick Leeson's 1996 book about his time at Barings Bank. See more »
When Nick and George are driving in the Porsche, their seat belts are on/off between shots. See more »
[pulls up in a new red Porsche 911 convertible]
Get in, you bastard!
What the fuck is that?
Sex on wheels. It's a Porsche, moron! Get in!
I'll tell you what it is, it's disgusting.
I'll tell you what it is, it's a great big hard-on.
[he speeds off]
Gotta think of something to do with my bonus!
Well, you keep your eyes on the road, you flash git!
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Any film dealing with a largely technical business such as the derivatives industry is going to be caught between a rock and a hard place before it even gets going; on the one hand, if the film-makers spend too much time explaining the complexities of the market, they will bore those in the know and probably send everyone else to sleep too, whereas if they don't indicate what's going on then they risk limiting their audience to only those with direct experience of trading. There can be no drama if the majority of viewers don't actually realise what's happening.
"Rogue Trader" then, for it's many flaws, is at least partially successful, because it makes clear the central principles of what Leeson was doing - making a double bet on the market going only in one direction. Having worked on London's futures exchange, I can't really be objective. I laughed out loud many times at the actors' and extras' bad hand-signals, the unrealistic dialogue in relation to price and size etc. "Real" market-speak often takes for granted that both parties understand alot more than needs to be said, thus leaves alot out. But of course that makes for bad cinema, so one can't grumble too much.
The cast is generally pretty good, McGregor acting his socks off as always. The main problem is that the script and direction are, from the get-go, just totally OBVIOUS. By this I mean that no visual or audio cliché is left unused. For example, every Barings office in London seems to have a plum view of St. Paul's Cathedral, just in case we forget where they are. And if these scenes can be accompanied by some chamber music, to remind us of the history and upperclass pedigree, then they will be. The reckless young traders, by contrast, are followed around by a largely anachronistic soundtrack of dance music and Britpop. When Leeson arrives in Asia for the first time, we hear Kula Shaker! Please! Perhaps a different, less conventional style of direction might have improved matters...
It's interesting that many people have commented along the lines of "Leeson only does what I'd do in that situation, trying to make things better". Since it's based on his book, the film unsurprisingly tries to make Leeson look... well, if not good, exactly, then at least not like a total idiot. I can't sympathize entirely, because "NEVER double up" and "a small loser is better than a blow out" are amongst the first things you learn down there. But even if only one tenth of all this is true, it's still truly stunning that Barings London didn't know what was going on, and accepted his story unchecked for so long... If they were that incompetent, they deserved to go bust.
Ultimately, "Rogue Trader" is neither a great movie nor a terrible one. As far as finance-films go, it rises majestically above the plain awfulness of "Dealers" or "Limit Up", but is still less informative than what is still the best market movie, "Trading Places". But who knows, maybe "I have just lost 50 million quid!" will enter traders' vocabulary in a few years, just as "Turn those machines back on!" already has. As a film, it's an entertaining diversion, and an interesting footnote to the headlines.
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