The mess that the banking and financial industry has become is all the more relevant in Steve James’ latest documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. From immigration politics to fraud, there’s a lot going on, but it’s a seamlessly presented look at such a crisis that gets you deep inside, yet never too lost, in what’s going on despite the plethora of word babble and drama. So what has a banking institution in the streets of Chinatown New York gotten itself into? Low ranking employees are taking fees from buyers and then falsifying their loans to work upward, ultimately getting the whole corporation into a battle.
With the It’s a Wonderful Life theme lain down right from the beginning, Tom and the Sung family have a mindset on doing good for the community by establishing a bank for the people in Chinatown. Things start to go downhill quicker than you’d expect, as the film cuts right to chase into showing just where it all went wrong. The fault – it gives little time to establish tension to the family’s morals directly, though we eventually see how they play out on the long run. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the impact, but more so a lack of interest to begin with.
Taking advantage of all this? New York’s new D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. who can take this on for publicity. Putting any racial prejudice aside (as he claims he has), the court battle is sprouted, lasting a good five years charging around 80 accounts of criminal behavior. The upper hand had a big hold on Abacus, giving into headlines and unwarranted photos ops. Employees chained together whilst being dragged to court, brought to you by a fleet of flashing news cameras. The Sung family vs. the Giants. A battle less about fists, but one of reputations and principles. These are the conflicts that are constantly arrest attention.
Big banks got out of these types of situations that Abacus was prosecuted with. Little of them were fined or even jailed within their actions. As the film states, you’re either too big to fail, or small enough to jail. So at the end of the day, the large corporations always rule in the banking industry. It’s still harsh, no doubt, but it’s nothing like the small town struggle, and the drama that aspires when you are looked down upon by those with weak reasoning.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail will be opening for a one week engagement in Toronto starting June 2, 2017.