I was utterly enamoured by Steve James’ ode to film journalist Roger Ebert in 2014’s Life Itself. My wife, on the other hand, found it difficult to tap in to and suggested it was because she didn’t have any preinvested interest. With James’ latest doc Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, I relate to my wife’s prior disconnect. Not because of the content, but because of the documentarian’s chosen genre. Audiences who are riveted by courtroom dramas will enjoy it though.
The doc focuses on the escalating disputes against Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a trusted institution within its Chinatown community, that began with questionable activity by former loan officer Ken Yu and ended in a controversial court case. A lengthy ordeal chronicled a firm clash between the bank’s honest intentions and what others deemed as illegal, which also stemmed certain suspicions behind why this community was being singled out.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a by-the-numbers courtroom drama through and through – a moderately interesting one albeit very dense. The story itself is important and reputable filmmaker James does everything he can to jazz up the presentation to some avail, but this doc won’t win over movie goers who find the genre uninviting.
UPDATE (06/01/17): Abacus: Small Enough to Jail will receive a one week engagement at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema beginning Friday, June 2.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail screens at TIFF on:
Sunday, September 18 at 6:00 p.m. @ Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Language: English, Mandarin, Cantonese
Runtime: 90 minutes
For more information on the festival, visit the official TIFF webpage here.
Buy tickets here.
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