“Too big to fail turns into small enough to jail.” – Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Best Documentary Feature
My Two Cents
This is a documentary is about the 2012 indictment of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small bank owned by the Sung family located New York City’s Chinatown, for mortgage fraud. It’s a story about a family who believed they were doing everything right when they discovered one of their loan officers was committing fraud, stopped a loan closing, and followed the appropriate steps to report it, and their business was issued an indictment by the DA’s office in NYC. In 2009, they claimed the bank participated an ongoing conspiracy of mortgage fraud and the indictment ultimately forces the family to spend the next 5 years defending themselves.
It’s a modern-day banking version of a David and Goliath story that begins during the 2008 financial crisis.
I’m not a big fan of the banking industry. It often feels a lot like disorganized chaos, every transaction or process seems like it’s the first time it’s ever happened, and the inconsistencies in processes are enough to send this process-minded business-person into a frenzy. Big shocker that they contributed to the financial crisis in a real massive way. And after studying the 2008 financial crisis extensively during my Master’s program, I don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for organizations (like big banks) who suffer zero consequences for their actions, nor do I have much respect for those charged with their regulation for doing so little. The lack of accountability is just insane to me. My opinion, of course.
So I really was not that excited about watching this doc! It’s a dry topic about a subject matter that’s been addressed at nauseam. I will say that it feels a little off watching this documentary that makes you root for a bank (of all things). But you cannot help but feel for the family in some way.
Forget the specific case and whether or not you believe Abacus was guilty or not and whether or not you feel they should have been made an example of or not. Consider this single fact – Abacus FSB was the only U.S. bank to be criminally charged during the 2008 financial crisis. Somethin’ just ain’t right about that statistic. And to me, that was the message of the film.
Final verdict – pun absolutely intended – Subject matter is everything in a documentary. So to me, this one had an uphill battle to climb from the get-go. This doc does the best it can with a very dry topic. It’s a different perspective and it sheds a little insight into social injustice in immigrant communities through a single example. It certainly sent a strong message, but the most compelling part of the doc is the strength of the Sung family and how they held it together through a 5-year legal battle which had to have cost them in the millions. Does it hit all of my hot doc buttons? Not really. It was pitched as a legal thriller. I don’t feel like it delivered on that. It was certainly interesting; and there were parts I really liked and there were parts that left me feeling like I could have been folding laundry instead of watching and it would have been a slightly better use of my time. I’m a little back and forth on this one, so I’ll say this: It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad – it was just ok.