The Deal Movie Review

It's an old adage that you "write what you know," which is very much the case here. First-time screenwriter Ruth Epstein is a 9-year veteran investment banker with Wall Street's Goldman Sachs. As a legal and financial negotiator, she knows mergers backwards. What she trips up on is translating the language of high stakes finance into intelligible drama.

Most of us couldn't tell the difference between a back-end hedge and a backhoe. So, when Delaney & Strong's hot shot investment banker Tom Grover (Christian Slater) is asked to manage a Russian oil company called Black Star in a $20 billion sale to Condor Oil & Gas, the technical details are about as clear as, well... a barrel of crude.

The need to pull his company out of impending bankruptcy with this deal shines through the goo, and we detect that Tom is up against a global conspiracy and the Russian mob. Though we want to bond to him, the part, and Slater's performance, generates all the sympathy of a legal contract. Salvaging the operation is tree-hugger Abbey Gallagher (Selma Blair), whom Tom's been trying to recruit. Before coming aboard, she seeks advice from her mentor, Harvard professor Roseman (John Heard), and he's just fine with his protégé's ability to add her ecological water to the company's oil -- but that subplot doesn't mix.

When an executive of Condor is killed, we start to appreciate the stakes involved and grasp that maybe there's some drama being pumped to the surface along with the sludge. In a strategy of co-opting a potential hitch in the deal, Condor's slick CEO Jared Tolson (Robert Loggia) lures an increasingly suspicious Tom into evaluating his company's bid. But this doesn't go down well with Tom's boss, steel-jawed Hank Weiss (Colm Feore), furious that Tom would align with the other side.

At this late stage of the game, the vixenish Anna (Angie Harmon) is introduced as a femme fatale with designs on the handsome banker who has, by now, begun to chemically react with his alluring recruit. This competitive romantic angle is explored like a newly opened tract at Alaska's Anwar Preserve, with sweet Abbey getting the short end of the deal. Until, that is, Tom catches on that Anna is a corporate spy (with a Russian accent out of the Comedy Store) engaged in espionage through seduction. The time it takes him to reach this insight tests our patience, but we breathe a sigh of relief when he rejects the temptress and gets it on with the gal we've been rooting for.

Blair's casual animal appeal comes through despite some wickedly stiff, aimless direction by co-producer Harvey Kahn) and she readily becomes the only emotional connection on the patch. She's a welcome balance to Slater, whose serious concerns as the third co-producer on the film (alongside Epstein and Kahn) leak into a performance that shows signs of rust. One might think that the principals who put this dry well together were fueled more from mutual need to make a movie than from a gusher of talent. If only someone on the team had a clue that a re-write was as essential as the cleanup of an oil spill.

Here's the deal: My tongue, your throat.


Comments

The Deal Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2005

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