Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Crash: Hacking the Markets to Save the Markets

As a private citizen, J.P. Morgan quelled the Panic of 1907 and basically saved the American financial system. In 1910, he participated in the Jekyll Island meetings that ultimately led to the creation of the Federal Reserve, so he wouldn’t have to go through that hassle again. Ever since then, the Fed has been the focus of conspiracy theories from the right and the left. Fuel will be added to the Occupy-Birchian flames when Aram Rappaport’s The Crash (trailer here) opens this Friday in New York.

The markets have been hacked—all of them, even the Miami MIAX. Thanks to the gloating terrorist chatter, the Treasury Department knows they only have a few days to avert a market meltdown. Out of desperation, Sec. Sarah Schwab (now there's a financial name) cuts a deal with bad boy money man Guy Clifton to save our butts. He was once the golden boy for bailing out the city of Chicago, but he is currently facing prosecution for hacking the NYSE, which indeed he did.

Of course, he didn’t do it alone. With the government’s blessing, Clifton recruits the same team of programmers, coders, and magical typists to put together a similar operation, but on a grander scale. Technically, it often his wife Shannon who does the recruiting, because many of his former associates are not too keen to work with him again. She is not thrilled with him either, but it would not help their critically ill daughter Creason’s survivability chances if her father went to prison.

We quickly learn the mastermind behind all the hacks is none other than Fed Chairman Del Banco (his name is literally “the Bank”), his own oily self, in cahoots with the big banks that took bailout money. In fact, the whole scheme is really TARP II. The bailed-out banks will short everything including the kitchen sink leading up to the crash, after which they will bargain hunt like mad. In return, they agree to keep interest rates low and credit flowing. It is an intriguing scheme that arguably makes the film hard to pigeon-hole in traditional right-left terms. It is also great fun to watch the reliably entertaining Christopher McDonald chew the scenery as Del Banco.

Proving good guys can be colorful too, Frank Grillo and Minnie Driver share some terrific tart-tongued chemistry as Guy and Shannon Clifton. They are almost Nick & Nora-like. However, the whole subplot involving the terminally ill daughter (who naturally starts a relationship with Clifton’s resentful ex-protégé is needlessly manipulative). John Leguizamo is just cringe-inducing as the wheelchair bound cyber-jockey George Diebold (just like the voting machines) and Maggie Q is scandalously wasted as his long-suffering nurse.

In the closing titles, The Crash reminds us there has been a financial crisis approximately every ten years since the Fed was established. That is technically true, but aside from the Great Depression, we haven’t seen bank runs and chaos like the Panic of 1907 since then. Regardless, Grillo, Driver, and McDonald elevate the paranoid LaRouche-Democracy Now subject matter. It is sort of all over the place, but it is always watchable. For fans of Paul Erdman thrillers (whose faults it shares), The Crash opens this Friday (1/13) in New York, at the Cinema Village.