Rogue Trader Made in: Great Britain Language: English Director: James Dearden Starring: Ewan McGregor, Anna Friel, Nigel Lindsay, Tim McInnerny, Yves Beneyton, Irene Ng, Lee Ross, Tom Wu, Daniel York, Simon Shepherd, John Standing, Pip Torrens, Betsy Brantley, Caraoline Langrishe Year: 1999
Synopsis: Based on the true story of former futures trader, Nick Leeson (played by Ewan McGregor), the story chronicles Leeson's rise to infamy while working for London's historic and revered Barings Bank. Starting out as an anonymous clerk, the ambitious Leeson is sent to Jakarta, Indonesia, to sort out a financial mess involving bearer bonds. It's tedious, boring work, but he gets through it with the help of Lisa (Anna Friel), whom he later marries.
Following the success of that assignment, Nick Leeson is promoted to General Manager of the Trading Floor on the SIMEX exchange in Singapore (where he trades futures options). And in an unprecedented move, Nick is also in charge of the bank office facilities. Leading a young but loyal team, Nick begins making a name for himself as one of Barings' best futures traders. He's brilliant and talented, but ambition clouds his judgment.
Nick secretly violates a whole host of laws and trading regulations when he creates an account titled 88888, a nonexistent client which he utilizes as a place to hide losses. From there, Nick uses the actual assets of Barings Bank customers to make huge gambles on the Nikkei index.
On paper, it looks as though Nick is earning millions for Barings. He becomes a rising star in the financial world, and the stakes get higher when he takes on big-shot client Pierre Beaumarchais (played by Yves Beneyton).
Nick's actions on the trading floor begins influencing the decisions of other traders, and for a time, he almost singlehandedly dictates the movement of the entire market.
But as the hidden losses in Account 88888 mount up and begin attracting unwanted attention, Nick resorts to greater deceptions in order to cover his rear. While trying to cut and run, the rogue trader tries escaping back to London with his wife.
But by then, he's a fugitive from justice unaware of just how much financial damage he's done to the entire Far East market and to Barings Bank itself...
The Good: Rogue Trader is another "rise and fall" biopic with the familiar theme of an otherwise intelligent person falling from grace due to hubris. It's almost formulaic, but Ewan McGregor does a great job carrying the film with ease.
There's a strange intrigue about watching millions of pounds moved around on the stock market at the drop of a hat. And watching this film in today's economic climate (as of May 2009) might give the story more emotional impact than it did when it first came out.
Although the stock market crash that took place in 1995 occurred under different circumstances than the 2008 disaster, Rogue Trader does a good job pointing out the fact that the world economy is a complex, unpredictable, and sometimes fragile creature.
And it's frightening to think that so much of what we perceive as economic security is in the hands of people who stress themselves out crowding and shouting on a chaotic-looking trading floor.
And in the end, the message is clear: Don't cheat for money. You'll go to jail and/or lose your job (unless, of course, a clueless government bails you out at the cost of honest taxpayers).
The Bad: The first half of the film moves a little too quickly. Also, the complexities of futures trading is hard to understand unless you're familiar with financial markets. And for those viewers who do understand stock markets and other financial stuff, I'm sure there are many technical inaccuracies that might be irritating.
Anna Friel, although competent as Lisa Leeson, isn't given much to do as a supporting actress. The ending also seems a bit abrupt, and leaves the story feeling a little incomplete.
Who would like this movie: Rogue Trader is for you if you understand futures markets, banking, and trading. But even if you don't, this is a pretty fascinating film that provides a familiar (but well-articulated) lesson about greed, hubris, and how the human ego is a lousy place to go for financial advice. It's certainly enjoyable, but goes by a little too quickly.