Wall Street's Celluloid Nightmare

Nov 21, 2013 | Updated Jan 25, 2014

For true dyed-in-wool Wall Street hater's there's lots to love about Assault on Wall Street, a gem of a movie that seems to have fallen through the distribution cracks. In short, it's a guilty pleasure that should have found a much larger audience

Written and directed by German filmmaker Uwe Boll, the flick details the transformation of a blue collar worker, Jim Baxford, (played by Australian actor Dominic Purcell), from hard working armored car security guard into vengeful angel of death with a bead drawn on a bunch of Wall Streeter's who've done him wrong and once in his cross-hairs the carnage, the catharsis and the fun begins.

Now what would drive a hard-working guy trying to live out the proverbial American dream to go all postal? Well, you see, Jim has a wife who has cancer, for one thing, and his insurance company has just refused to pay for an experimental treatment, and that's just the beginning. The film is set in the aftermath of the 2008 financial apocalypse and you're constantly reminded of that by a barrage of news reports that play out in the background, highlighting a bank bailout in full swing and while the banks are getting "saved" little guys like Jim are getting the shaft. He finds this out when trying to draw money from his investment account (for the wife's treatment) and is told by the broker that sadly the well has run dry, kiss your life savings goodbye; it was frittered away through some sort of proprietary (and fraudulent) shenanigans involving a big Wall Street investment firm and if that ain't bad enough the broker tells him that he may be on the hook for "penalties" (it's a little unclear what the nature of this particular Wall Street scam is). Go out and get a lawyer his friends tell him and he stumbles on an appropriately sleazy one to boot whose interest is purely monetary ("my retainer is $10, 000," thank you very much) who does nothing. Perhaps City Hall might be the place to go for answers, or in this case the Assistant District Attorney investigating the scam? Not a chance, the ADA ignores him like some ugly girl at the High School prom and he's ignominiously shown the door by a no-nonsense assistant (great line here after she threatens to call security: "I am fucking security," Jim fires back).

In rapid succession Jim 1) gets fired from his job 2) loses his home to foreclosure and, the capper 3) discovers the love of his life and future mother of his children succumbs to these foul circumstances and departs this mortal coil via her own hand and a sharp kitchen knife.

OK, now we're in Death Wish territory and Jim Baxford wraps himself appropriately in a Charles Bronson/Paul Kersey cloak of one color: black. Clearly vengeance will be his...

Assault is a film lover's witch's brew; an homage to Death Wish - the main ingredient - but mixing a heaping healthy dose of Taxi Driver and for good measure: a pinch of Grapes of Wrath (more on this later).

There's lots of working class solidarity at play in this film: real men standing shoulder to shoulder with one another clearly putting their money where their mouth is. Sean, Jim's best friend and armored car sidekick, forces him to take ten grand cash, no strings attached, to pay the aforementioned sleazebag attorney. Two other buddies -- NYPD patrolmen (a brilliant bit of casting) -- share some unabashedly raw anti-Wall Street sentiments even before the real shit starts hitting Jim's fan. Over coffee in some greasy spoon one cop delivers his own monologue about Wall Street culture and it runs like this.

Do you know what me and Freddie do with our day? We bust homeless people for sleeping in the park or we cite some stupid schmuck for jaywalking. But the real fucking criminals, they're downtown on Wall Street wearing suits that costs more than any of us make in a year. Those motherfuckers steal more money than any asshole in Riker's Island ever dreamed of stealing.

Now, where have we heard this same celluloid sentiment? Try Goodfellas... Towards the end of the film unsmiling FBI agents flank Paulie Cicero as they perp walk him out of the mob's favorite bar. As he's paraded past colleagues, Paulie's brother Tuddy offers this prescient sentiment: "Why don't you go down to Wall Street and get yourselves some really fucking crooks?"

But, let's face it, these observations are part and parcel of quite a few conversations in the real world and I've heard it expressed over and over again by hard working stiffs - from fireman to UPS workers - all bemoaning the looting of their pension funds and darkened prospects for a comfortable retirement.

Uwe Boll, the director, has managed to crystallize the pure rage that many around the country feel towards those financial geniuses who, after seeing their house of card collapse, feed off the teat of the US Treasury and let the little guys - the taxpayers -- pay the bill.

In the specific sub-genre of post-2008 feature films dealing with the financial crisis (a subject I have written about before) Assault on Wall Street is, putting it mildly, the most visceral. It's nothing like Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone's softball follow-up to Wall Street, or Margin Call, the passion play about the trading floor in a sinking Wall Street firm and it occupies another universe entirely when compared to Too Big to Fail, Andrew Ross Sorkin's and HBO's attempt at aggrandizing the tenure of ex-Goldie Hank Paulson as "savior" of the global economy. Martin Scorsese may up the octane with Wolf of Wall Street (coming in December), however the story arc doesn't deal with an ordinary dude but a too-smart-for-his-own-good con artist who suffers the usual Shakespearean fall from grace. Assault on Wall Street at least gives the working class a chance to do a Howard Beale and collectively rage with a "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," at least vicariously through the determined machinations of Jim Baxson.

Dominic Purcell plays the role as the kind of character you don't want to mess around with even when he's feeling good so that when he starts to put together his arsenal you know that the kill-fest will be bloody. There's some time spent watching Jim practicing in front of a mirror - Travis Bickle style - endlessly drawing pistols from underarm shoulder holsters and you begin to wonder whether like Taxi Driver this is all about unleashing some dormant psychopathic desires.

The actual "assault" is pulled off with military precision - with Jim donning a Guy-Fawkes style mask --and as bodies pile up on the trading floor (with one exception: a trader who flashes a pix of his wife and young son is spared) you may suspect that this won't end until the guy at the top gets his just desserts and with a bit of karmic justice at play that's just what happens (let's spare the description for spoiler's sake; it has to be seen to be appreciated).

Having done his Johnny-too-Bad, Jim discards the mask and strides unmolested through the lobby where he runs into one of his cop buddies called to the scene. There's a flash of silent recognition on the part of the cop, a sort of "I know you did it... and good for you," acknowledgement. He escorts Jim out to the street -- past his other cop friend - and, home free, silently makes his way past the ambulances, squad cars and reporters.

It's here where Paul Kersey/Travis Bickle morphs into Grapes of Wrath's Tom Joad with this ending voice-over:

I'm still alive and free and I promise I'll keep killing. I'm out there, a soldier of the people and if the government, the prosecutors and the judges fail in their duty I will not fail in mine.

Roll credits...

Jim the avenging angel has become Jim the redeemer with a nod to social justice worthy of Henry Fonda's iconic speech at the end of Grapes of Wrath.

I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there...

This is definitely a word-of-mouth film that should gain traction with time and light some tinder under all those disaffected, disempowered victims of Wall Street greed.

It also begs a question: Will there be a sequel (or at least a video game)?

Joel Sucher, a filmmaker with Pacific Street Films,is working on Foreclosure Diaries, a documentary about the financial crisis. He's blogged in the past for American Banker, is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post and In These Times and is currently working on a book, Intent to Accelerate: Reflections on the Foreclosure Crisis.