Film Talk: Do Dano and Co. deliver the dollar in Dumb Money?
From where did this man come?
Well, it turns out he’s been around for quite a while – I was just late on the bus with him.
My first taste of the terrifically talented beast that is Paul Dano came with the 2016 TV adaptation of War & Peace.
In this BBC production of the classic Tolstoy epic, Dano took the lead role of Pierre Bezukhov, and shone brightly in this well-known tale of the highs and lows of the Russian aristocracy set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
Dano’s turn was truly captivating, yet, as stated, this was far from his first rodeo.
With a double role as a pair of twin brothers opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Dano had begun making his serious Hollywood mark as early as 2007.
Following this, he took on a particularly abhorrent role in 12 Years A Slave, yet played it masterfully. And of course, he wowed audiences far and wide last year with his take on The Riddler in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. A chilling channelling of the Zodiac Killer if ever there was.
Looking through more of his back catalogue, there is something compelling about Dano in whatever part he turns his hand to – even in more light-hearted flicks such as The Girl Next Door and Cowboys & Aliens. And this week, our boy Paul is front and centre in Dumb Money – Craig Gillespie’s new comedy-drama telling the true tale of a group of investment underdogs who punched Wall Street back.
But do Dano and Co. deliver the dollar and bring home the biographical bank?
You know the drill, boys and girls – prime the popcorn and get comfy as we take a look at this week’s biggest releases. Lights, camera, action...
DUMB MONEY (UK 15/ROI 15A, 104 mins)
Released: September 22 (UK & Ireland)
In January 2021, prominent hedge funds faced eye-watering losses when avid readers of online social network Reddit triggered a short squeeze of the stock of American video game retailer GameStop.
Wall Street had been betting heavily against the high street business, expecting losses in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.
Instead, an impassioned movement of individual investors – casually dismissed as “dumb money” by the big institutions – responded to videos posted by Roaring Kitty (aka Keith Gill) and rallied behind GameStop, creating a tidal wave of stock purchases that propelled the company’s value to more than 200 US dollars per share.
This bruising battle of hard-working Americans against cold-hearted financial goliaths informs director Craig Gillespie’s crowd-pleasing comedy drama, which bets heavily on our fascination with underdogs but ultimately yields lower returns than the Oscar-nominated dramatisation of The Big Short.
Paul Dano instantly endears us to his self-professed nerd, who triggers a meltdown of financial markets with four simple words – “I like the stock” – and advocates transparency by publishing his balance sheets to prove he has been backing GameStop for months with his savings.
Keith’s wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) supports her husband’s decision to wager their future on GameStop but others are not so enthusiastic. Nurse Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera) considers answering Keith’s call to arms but one work colleague sounds the alarm bell: “I wouldn’t take investment advice from a guy in a catsuit!”
Elsewhere, colleague student Riri (Myha’la Herrold) tries to reason with her girlfriend Harmony (Talia Ryder), who thinks she can clear her debts by buying into GameStop.
“That sounds like the literal definition of a pyramid scheme,” dismays Riri.
Hard-working GameStop store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos) is persuaded by Keith’s logic and backs his employers.
As the stock price climbs, hedge funds including Melvin Capital founded by Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Citadel founded by Kenneth C Griffin (Nick Offerman) face losses running into billions of US dollars.
Commission-free broker-dealer Robinhood founded by Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota) controversially suspends purchases in GameStop, adding fuel to the inferno of public resentment towards Wall Street.
Dumb Money is consistently entertaining, championing the collective power of everyday people to punish callous and greedy institutions simply by sticking together.
Pete Davidson injects broad comedy as Keith’s mischievous brother, a contact-free delivery driver who grazes on fast food orders before they reach customers’ front doors.
Working from Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction book The Antisocial Network, screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo minimise technical jargon so it’s easy to follow the GameStop saga to its inevitable conclusion. With every gamble, there are winners and losers. Gillespie’s polished picture is a safe bet.
THE LESSON (UK 15/ROI 15A, 103 mins)
Released: September 22 (UK & Ireland)
During a tense exchange between a revered author and an interviewer in director Alice Troughton’s debut feature, the self-aggrandising scribe holds court on the absence of originality in his craft and gleefully proclaims “Great writers steal”.
Screenwriter Alex MacKeith heeds his own words, borrowing elements from other power struggles between mentor and ambitious protegee to fuel a largely predictable study of a cuckoo in a family nest, who witnesses his emotionally scarred hosts unravel at the seams (with some gentle prodding).
Nenagh-born actor Daryl McCormack, who set hearts aflutter as a sex worker in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, is in various states of undress here too as the ardent fan, who sheds his rose-tinted spectacles when he observes his literary hero at uncomfortable close quarters.
A central tug of war between McCormack and Richard E Grant’s supercilious novelist generates disappointingly few friction burns even when the latter cruelly dismisses his doe-eyed disciple’s years of creative toil as “passable airport fiction”.
Cogs of a fanciful plot are well oiled and constantly turn to keep the running time comfortably under two hours.
The Lesson opens with first-time novelist Liam Somers (McCormack) sitting nervously on stage in front of a packed audience, poised to discuss his critically feted story of a fading patriarch in the throes of grief with a moderator (Tomas Spencer).
A gentle opening question about the inspiration for the book prompts a flashback to the idyllic summer that Liam is hired to tutor the son of his literary idol, JM Sinclair (Grant), who has retreated from public view following the death of eldest child Felix.
JM’s elegant wife Helene (Julie Delpy) furnishes Liam with a contract and non-disclosure agreement prior to moving into the family home.
She kindly offers advice on how to navigate JM’s prickly nature: “We don’t talk about his work, we don’t talk about Felix. Follow those rules and you should be fine.”
Liam obliges, keen to study the writer and further his literary ambitions, and he builds rapport with young scion Bertie (Stephen McMillan) who must prepare for a university admissions interview to study English Literature at Oxford.
Under the silent gaze of family butler Ellis (Crispin Letts), Liam gains the trust of each member of the clan and his positive energy encourages Helene to scold her husband for wallowing in misery. “I married a writer… so write,” she urges.
The Lesson isn’t as sly or ingenious as it wants us to believe, aptly mirroring the misplaced superiority of Grant’s pompous patriarch.
Performances are solid but Delpy’s neglected spouse is underpowered until the contrived machinations of a fraught final act.
If a great film steals our attention then Troughton’s slow-burning thriller won’t be charged with grand larceny.
EXPEND4BLES (UK 15/ROI 16, 103 mins)
Released: September 22 (UK & Ireland)
Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and co flex their muscles in the fourth instalment of the action-packed franchise, which has changed directors for each mission.
Barney Ross (Stallone) and the team square off against arms dealer Suarto Rahmat (Iko Uwais) and his private army, who are planning to inflame global tensions with smuggled nuclear warheads.
The terrorists intend to launch the deadly payload from a cargo ship off the coast of Russia, triggering war with America. Ross, second-in-command Lee Christmas (Statham), his girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox), sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and new recruit Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) must storm the vessel to prevent Rahmat from enacting his despicable plan.
BALLYWALTER (UK 15/ROI 15A, 90 mins)
Released: September 22 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)
County Down comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty takes on a rare serious screen role.
Following the painful breakdown of his marriage, Shane (Kielty) nervously enrols in a stand-up comedy course.
He calls a taxi for the 30-minute journey from Ballywalter to Belfast and unlicensed 20-something driver Eileen (Seana Kerslake) responds.
During repeated journeys, a touching friendship develops.