It's an old adage that you "write what you know about," which seems very much
the case here. First-time writer Ruth Epstein is a 9-year veteran investment
banker with Wall Street's Goldman Sachs. As a legal and financial
negotiatiator, she knows mergers backwards. What she doesn't seem to know is
how to translate the language of high stakes finance into drama.
Most of us couldn't tell the difference between a back end hedge and a back
hoe. 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 and its CEO Jared Tolson (Robert
Loggia), which promises to alleviate an energy crisis (and save his company),
the technical details flew way over my head. Talk about takeovers. This is
a case of dialogue taken over by finance-speak. The discussion is about as
clear as, well... a barrel of crude.
A struggle between competing forces and political interplay shines through
the morass, and we detect that Tom is up against a global conspiracy and a
Russian mob. Though we want to bond to this guy, the part, and Slater's
performance, generates all the sympathy of a legal contract.
Salvaging the operation is tree-hugger Abbey (Selma Blair), whom Tom's been
trying to recruit. She seeks career advice from her Harvard professor
Roseman (John Heard), and he's just fine with his protege's readiness to
apply her ecological interests within the austere corridors of an oil
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.
In a strategy of co-opting a potential enemy of the deal, CEO Tolson hires
Tom to evaluate his company's bid. But this doesn't go down well with Tom's
boss, steel-jawed Hank (Colm Feore), furious that Tom would work for the
At this late stage of the game, the vixenish Anna (Angie Harmon) is
introduced as a femme fatale with designs on handsome Tom who has,
unfortunately for her, begun to relate to the allures of his laid-back
recruit. This competitive love angle is explored like a newly opened tract
of Alaska's Anwar Preserve, with sweet Abbey getting the sooty 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 seduction and espionage.
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 casually animal appeal comes through despite some wickedly stiff,
erratic 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 his mostly dour performance. 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
Know-how is provided by cinematographer Adam Sliwinski's capable, bigscreen
look and score by Christopher Lennertz to match.
I think it's fair to say that most people's closest experience with oil
contracts takes place at the pump. The alleviation of an energy crisis in a
dramatic thriller context, is a promising prospect. Considering current
operations in the middle east, the highest barrel prices in history, and a
constant threat of shortages, the time is ripe for an oil story. And, why
not have someone knowledgeable in the ways of Wall Street write it? This
movie, muddled up by a smoke screen of authenticity and not enough humanity
to make it compelling, tells us.
I hope someone comes up with a feature movie that does it better than this
sloppy "Deal" and half as well as the documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room."
~~ Jules Brenner