Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2016)
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The family dynamics and the way James captured coherency and character in the chaos of loving argument was magical.
In 2008, when the banks crashed the housing market, none of them were prosecuted - indeed, they were bailed out by the government instead - except one, a small family-owned bank called Abacus in Chinatown. The documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail explores the case, standing firmly with the Sung family and making the point that they were easy prey for a D.A. who wanted to make an example of them, more or less as a consolation prize in the whole mortgage crisis. Good build-up and suspense from Steve James (famous for Hoop Dreams), who makes bank loans somewhat exciting, and clarifies what could have been a confusing yarn. In addition, it's a good Chinese immigrant story, with a focus on that community and how its unique qualities sort of led to the bank's crisis.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, directed by Steve James, is the story of the only bank faced with criminal charges for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis.
It's a fascinating look at so many things - the crisis itself, the culture of Chinatown, what it means to be a family business, and the American justice system.
The documentary follows like an actual narrative arc. We get exposition of the people themselves and the world around them, then the central conflict of the story. But there are subplots, particularly one surrounding Mr. Ken Yu, that make the central story more interesting. Then our "characters" face more and more conflicts until finally we get a resolution.
Nominee for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards, and a deserving one
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