The Bet

(Mark Lee, Australia, 2006)


A story that American movies have almost always told well concerns the drive for material success. From Come and Get It (1936) to Scarface (1983) and beyond, the urge to climb the social ladder is conveyed in all its dimensions: as greed for money, as longing for status and recognition, and as sexual thrill.


It is only because American cinema identifies so completely with this crusade – think of Martin Scorsese’s adoring depictions of well-dressed gangsters or entrepreneurs on the rise – that it earns the right to ultimately criticise such a money-loving system: the classic capitalist rise-and-fall tale can become tragic or, in the case of the novel and films of American Psycho, grotesque. Movie-making itself, whenever large sums of money are involved, becomes an allegory of this process – hence sharpening the identification.


Australian films (like, in fact, many films from the smaller nations) tend to fare rather less well with this theme. The sexiness, the urgency, the life-or-death stakes – none of this really comes across. Instead, we get an earnest morality tale, the lesson of which is predictable from the first frame.


The Bet, directed by actor Mark Lee (Gallipoli, 1981) and scripted by Caroline Gerard, is in the tradition of Robert Connelly’s The Bank (2001) and Three Dollars (2005). Rising stockbroker Will (Matthew Newton) makes a bet with banker Angus (Aden Young): who can make the most money in 90 days? The moment, very early on, when the plot veers sharply away from the sinister Angus in order to concentrate on the naïve Will, is enough to make us suspect that crucial manipulations are occurring between scenes and off-screen.


The film boasts some excellent dramatic highpoints – a scene where Angus dumps his girlfriend Lila (Peta Sergeant) in public is chilling – but it has problems making the high-finance milieu believable. The low-budget spectacle of actors in slick suits sweating over computers as they cry “Buy!” or “Sell!” and furiously snap their mobile phones on and off, does not exactly cut it. The central sex scene between Will and Tory (Sibylla Budd) is clumsy (she keeps her bra on, he keeps his watch on). And the film’s coy, evasive references to real-life cases of insider trading will hardly have the big corporations quaking in their boots.


The Bet is Lee’s sole venture into directing features.

© Adrian Martin September 2007

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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