Hollywood films don’t come much more ripped from the headlines than this account of the 2021 GameStop financial scandal that saw ordinary day traders take on Wall Street and win. Or did they? Rather than a simple story of underdogs vs The Man, director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) has made a complicated, sometimes funny story that is not a comedy, and sometimes feels like a horror.
Paul Dano, in Fabelmans-esque gentle dad mode, is Keith Gill, aka Fierce Kitty, a small time YouTuber who posts about his investments. He encourages his followers to buy stock in GameStop, a US retail chain that has been heavily shorted by Wall Street. His quixotic campaign snowballs, leaving the big firms that have bet against the stock price facing a loss of billions. Hedge funder Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) is particularly exposed, and faces public humiliation as ordinary people – played by the likes of America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos and Talia Ryder – see their fortunes soar, at least on paper.
It would be a Cinderella story but for Gillespie’s reminders that these small investors can’t afford to write off their possible losses, in contrast to the corporates they are facing. It’s a point given visual resonance in the pandemic-era setting, where the poor protagonists and rich men’s staff are largely masked, while the billionaires never have to hide their faces. Consequences are other people’s problems.
It’s good to be reminded that late-stage capitalism considers us all dumb money
There is, perhaps, a little too much bouncing around between stories, and not all the plot threads land powerfully – Pete Davidson as Gill’s layabout brother doesn’t add much – but Gillespie makes elegant points without resorting to cartoon villainy. Plotkin is also portrayed as a decent family man, and Vincent d’Onofrio’s Steve Cohen gets to hang out with his objectively cool pet pig. Only Nick Offerman’s hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin is universally condemned as a prick, while Sebastian Stan – playing another fine sleazeball for Gillespie after his turns in I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy – is only almost entirely a schmuck.
Still, the contrast that cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis finds between the warm colours of the super-rich and the chilly suburbs where Gill and his family live is telling, and the script, by Orange is the New Black alumna Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, is pointed without being hectoring. Something went wrong here, and it wasn’t the Reddit investors who decided to take on Wall Street. It was the same old forces that play with lives and livelihoods and make more money than even they can ever spend. In a time when corporate biopics have been rife – think Air, BlackBerry, Flamin’ Hot, Ferrari – it’s good to be reminded that late-stage capitalism considers us all dumb money.
Out worldwide Sep 22.