Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Movies, Documentary
4 out of 5 stars
TIFF movies 2016

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

After being scapegoated during the mortgage crisis, a family-owned Chinese bank fights back in Steve James's intimate, impassioned NYC doc.

Why did virtually all of the big banks escape prosecution after the housing bubble burst in 2008? No matter how many times we ask, it’s still a rage-making question. Actually, one company was targeted: a family-run Chinese-American firm, Abacus Federal Savings Bank, that became a scapegoat in the wake of larger criminality. As we learn in Abacus: Small Enough to Jail—which plays alternatively like a legal thriller and a warm family comedy—the company did have a bad-apple employee, duly fired and reported to higher authorities. For its diligence, Abacus was slapped with multiple conspiracy indictments, triggering a five-year courtroom battle in which it refused to cave.

Director Steve James, maker of the mighty Hoop Dreams, probes the intimate corners of his subject, exploring the bank’s idealistic origins on behalf of racially persecuted loan applicants, most of them living in NYC’s Chinatown. Doing business in this community was a matter of personal pride for bank founder Thomas Sung (whose soft-spoken elegance is never shaken). We see Sung and his whip-smart adult daughters batting around courtroom strategies over plates of sizzling food. Throughout James’s scrappy story, there’s a winning sense of humor, showing the spunk of people not used to getting pushed around.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf


Release details

Release date:
Friday May 19 2017
88 mins

Cast and crew

Steve James

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