Film Review – The Outsider
There’s no better representation of a capitalistic society than stock market trading. It’s quick and fast, can earn countless wealth in no time, and can turn nobodies into rock stars overnight. Once you get a taste of success, the temptation to go further only increases. The problem is: this is really hard to depict onscreen. Your average person wouldn’t know the first thing about stock market trading, and most of the excitement is relegated to people staring at computer screens. There has yet to be a film that translates the suspense of people watching numbers change. The Big Short (2015) tried to spell it out to us in as simple a form as possible, while The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) ignored teaching us anything and focused exclusively on the hedonism that comes with being insanely rich.
The Outsider (L’outsider, 2016) runs into the same problem. Written and directed by Christophe Barratier (adapted from Jerome Kerviel’s book), the story focuses on an ambitious young trader named Jerome (Arthur Dupont) as he works his way up the ladder at one of the biggest banks in the world – France’s Societe Generale – during the early 2000s. What Jerome goes through in the stock market landscape we’ve seen many times before: a slow a start, quick adaptation, gradual success, greed and hubris entering the fold, and eventual collapse. The tropes are so common that we can see the finish line well ahead of us. There’s very little in the way of surprises here.
It is interesting to get a perspective outside of the United States regarding the financial crisis though. This was when the housing market and sub-prime fiasco caused the American economy to fall into a tailspin, and the effect it caused around the globe must have surely been felt. Does Barratier show this in any new way? Not really. He showcases it as many others have: men in ties with their sleeves rolled up, furiously typing on a keyboard or yelling into phone. The camera whips from one character to the next, each speaking lingo we don’t recognize but know is important because of how fast they’re speaking. There are a number of scenes like this, but the thrill is not there because it all means nothing cinematically. Many of the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts of the same people we’ve seen before: lewd, crude, obsessed with wealth and sexual pleasures. They yell and swear at work and then at night hit up the local strip club to release some tension.
Arthur Dupont plays Jerome like a combination of puppy dog and drug addict. This is the first time I’ve seen Dupont, and as a performer he exudes a kind of innocent naiveté that reminds me of someone like Farley Granger. He starts off like a deer in headlights, barely keeping his head afloat as the cyclone of trading whirls around him. But Jerome is a quick learner, and becomes one of the most profitable traders in the company. Now this is where things get confusing. The main point of tension involves Jerome betting money on the stock market either going up or down. He plays with way more money than he’s supposed to, and this causes some of the bigwigs upstairs to pay special attention to him. His heightened level of stress causes problems at home, especially his relationship with I.T. girl Sofia (Sabrina Ouazani).
We never get a sense as to why Jerome delves into illegal practices other than he wants to be rich. Dupont plays Jerome as though he has common sense. There’s no larger indication as to what forces him to do something he knows he shouldn’t. Does it have something to do with his family? Jerome doesn’t appear like the kind of person who just wants to be rich and spend his money on extravagant merchandise. The character development isn’t rounded enough to justify Jerome’s actions. In fact, it’s pointed out that he lives a fairly moderate lifestyle given his profession – so what’s the deal? Is this supposed to be a cautionary tale warning us of the dangers of monetary greed? It’s not satirical, because the narrative clearly wants us to empathize with the main character.
The alternate title for The Outsider is Team Spirit, and this might shed a little light as to what Barratier was going for. Obviously, Jerome couldn’t have been the only person doing what he did, but in the world of high-risk finance everyone is out for the own self interests. These are people that will pat you on the back and have drinks with you when things are going great, but when the going gets tough are nowhere to be found. This isn’t a new idea, and Barratier’s film doesn’t explore it in a fashion distinguishable from other productions. While The Outsider is competently made and features a charismatic central performance, it’s hard to walk away not thinking of other movies that did it better.