Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Screen 80 of 11 reviews

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

2016

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Poster
  • The idea of a movie about a bank's prosecution might not exactly sound riveting, but Abacus: Small Enough to Jail director Steve James (the documentarian responsible for Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters) manages to present the case like an epic David-and-Goliath struggle.

  • The physical fact of [the Sung family's] existence onscreen is inspiring. So is the film's impressive array of archival images, documentary film snippets and bits of TV news reports, showing Chinatown through the ages. There is history here. An entire world. And we finally get to see it. What happened to the Sungs seems horribly unfair, but this film is a silver lining. Everyone needs to see it.

  • The headaches of working out all the components of this incredible case are assuaged by the charisma of Mr. and Mrs. Sung and their sharp-witted daughters, who, when not fighting the system, are endearingly bickering with each other. A scene as banal as Thomas picking through a dry sandwich as his daughters squabble over the lack of mayo is as engrossing as the courtroom drama.

  • James keeps his aesthetic house clean and uncluttered. And why shouldn’t he when he’s got a ripping yarn already drenched in cascading ironies, a set of memorable characters, and a new vantage point from which to view one of the central historical events of recent times? It’s now been seven years since Inside Job, and I can’t remember a single frame of that film, but I have a hunch the people in Abacus will be rattling around in my skull for a long while.

  • True stories can be just as absorbing as narratives, and real people as memorable as characters, as Steve James' suspenseful courtroom documentary demonstrates... James gives us a rare glimpse into this somewhat unmelted immigrant community. The steely, whip-smart daughters turn out to be not so easy to push around, and their loving bickering banter with their parents is a delight.

  • It's an exemplary piece of filmmaking... The family moments generate such humour and warmth it’s almost too painful to contemplate the humiliation and ruin should the verdict go against them.

  • It's at once a heartfelt portrait of a close-knit family facing overwhelming adversity and an infuriating indictment of our U.S. justice system gone seriously awry.

  • James gets excellent access to people on all sides of the case, from lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense, to jurors who explain what they and their fellow jurors were thinking... James also captures many frank and emotional discussions between members of the family, who seem oblivious to the camera as they plot strategy or talk about how the case is affecting them and their community.

  • It’s not uncommon nowadays to see a pleasant, very professional, mildly engaging documentary that could just as easily have been a 5,000- to 10,000-word magazine article, saving all involved the trouble of financing and making a movie. Abacus: Small Enough To Jail... is one of these—an unusually literal example, as its major points were previously covered in “The Accused,” an article published in The New Yorker in 2015.

  • James's unquestioning embrace of the Sungs occasionally depends on a willed authorial naïveté, as the family insists that they never knew of the crimes being committed under their umbrella, which fosters a fascinating irony that the filmmaker doesn't examine: that big banks who got off scot-free from their involvement in the 2008 crisis made similar claims.

  • What James does not do well, on the evidence of his latest film, the limp investigative doc Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, is pretend he’s Errol Morris. James denies himself the street-level vantage point that lent the best of his early work its power in favor of borrowed (not to mention heavy-handed) grammatical flourishes. He’s acting confident but he looks lost.

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