(Alan J. Pakula, USA, 1981)


Alan Pakula's Rollover – certainly an oddity in this director's decidedly uneven career – offers an intriguing, and finally rather disheartening, case study in the way that filmmakers approach the difficult representation of power in society.

It is an attempt at representing the intricate workings of international economic power, but (as often the case in mainstream cinema) can only do so via the agency of heroic (or villainous) characters – the old "Lion of American banking" versus the hero (Kris Kristofferson) who 'rides shotgun' over a crack team of financial whiz-kids at interlocked computer terminals (a Wild Bunch?).

The film's extravagant play with metaphor – the hero 'runs problem loans' in the 'trenches' and plans 'rescue missions' as in a war film, embodies "the spirit that built the Old West" like a cowboy – betrays its conceptual limitations, as does it dramaturgy of split second decisions and adventurous experiments.

From where, by what process, do economic decisions come? By the looks of it, only on the basis of moves by financiers who gamble cheerfully and recklessly with the world's economy ("a game, that's exactly what it is...You keep talking about the system. You can't beat the system. But you can win the game") – or counter-moves, such as murders, carried out by mean-looking hired assassins.

Rollover actually materialises (against expectations) a global financial collapse in its last few minutes, but then resorts to religious Apocalypse imagery in order to assert (somewhat bizarrely, after all the market thrills) that material values shouldn't be so important in our 'new dawn' (Adam/Kris Kristofferson says to Eve/Jane Fonda: "Like everybody, I'm looking for a way to begin again").

Rollover thus dreams – vainly – of a world beyond power.

MORE Pakula: Consenting Adults, The Pelican Brief, Starting Over, The Sterile Cuckoo

© Adrian Martin December 1987

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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