Risk/Reward

"Weak"

Risk/Reward Review


Of the 1,366-odd members of the New York Stock Exchange, only 44 are women. Unsurprising as it may be, this is an incredible statistic, the provenance of which the documentary Risk/Reward - which follows four women through the fluorescent-lit jungle that is Wall Street - hopes to shed some light on. Even though that isn't quite the case, this isn't a film that ever wanders too far from its sources to dig into the murky reasonings behind things, that doesn't mean it's an unrewarding piece of filmmaking, just an incomplete one.

In a leisurely manner, filmmakers Elizabeth Holder and Xan Parker set up their subjects, who are well-chosen to represent a good sample of different jobs on The Street and each of whom is, if not remarkable, still pretty impressive nonetheless. Carol Warner Wilke is a market researcher who is consistently ranked at the top in her particular field by the trade publications, and who seems to have no trouble balancing the demands of her family (she already has one kid, and is pregnant with another when the film starts) with the demands of her job. A world away from Wilke's calm, quiet office is the floor of the NYSE, where Louise Jones plies her trade. A high school graduate who basically talked her way into her job, Jones has an agreeably no-nonsense way about her ("It's kind of like playing poker on a very large scale") that probably helps her get by in that particular testosterone-heavy milieu - but this is an area that isn't really explored. Straddling these two settings is Kimberley Euston, a foreign exchange sales trader whose team is responsible for billions of dollars in trades a day. Cool doesn't even begin to describe the temperament of this woman, who calmly and rationally works her way through Byzantine international transactions that are so huge that a million dollars is referred to as "a buck." Representing the up-and-comer is Umber Ahmad, a Pakistani-American who's an MBA student at Wharton and suffering through a summer internship at Morgan Stanley that regularly keeps her in the office until 1am, making her feel as though "my life is passing me by."

There's not much in the way of a story arc to the proceedings in Risk/Reward, as we basically just follow the women through their daily hassles, charting the rise of their careers, negotiating the fallout after 9/11, and moving between jobs. The one with the most automatically engaging story is definitely Jones, who's the definition of a bootstrapper. Abandoned in a phone booth on the Upper West Side as a two-day-old baby, Jones was adopted and grew up in a Staten Island housing project. By the time the film catches up with her, she's already running her own firm and thinking about selling out to a larger one, a move that would likely set her and her partner up with money for life.

The idea of money equaling freedom is one of the more interesting threads that runs through the film; early on, one of the characters says "It would be naïve to think that there was not a link between financial independence and psychological independence." Ahmad's student friends talk about "buying your freedom" and what they call the "golden handcuffs," or the fact that in a business where a bonus can be three times your salary, and with such incredible perks, it's difficult to go back to a life without first-class airfare and expense accounts - you're always trying for that next bonus, after which you'll retire.

What the film hardly explores at all is how these women fit into their overwhelmingly male environment. There is talk about the demands of work and home - Euston and Wilke's husbands definitely have a Mr. Mom thing going on - but not at a very deep level. This lack of deeper sociological curiosity, combined with a chintzy soundtrack and somewhat arbitrary structure, is ultimately what keeps Risk/Reward from being much more than a mildly interesting documentary with wonderful subjects.



Risk/Reward

Facts and Figures

Run time: 88 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 12th April 2003

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

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