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Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader (1998)


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Release Date: Jan 1, 1999 Wide



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Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 5,214

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Movie Info

Based on the tell-all autobiography by Nick Leeson, Rogue Trader tells the true story of how one man managed to bring down England's best respected merchant bank. Ewan McGregor plays Leeson, an ambitious young man from North London who is hired by the Barings Brothers Bank and sent to Indonesia to help untangle some problems with bearer bonds. Leeson does well enough to earn a transfer to Singapore, where he's put in charge of Barings' staff at the Singapore International Money Exchange. The


Mystery & Suspense, Drama

James Dearden

Dec 14, 1999


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All Critics (15) | Top Critics (2) | Fresh (3) | Rotten (6) | DVD (4)

No one else involved in the film is able to match McGregor's conviction.

October 28, 2006 Full Review Source:

a superb story, simply but effectively told

April 18, 2005
Shadows on the Wall

An intriguing true story, a magnetic lead actor, and yet the result is pancake-flat.

July 29, 2004
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Truly, truly boring.

May 31, 2004
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Audience Reviews for Rogue Trader

For me Rogue Trader was the first film that Ewan McGregor really got to prove his worth and I think he did a great job. I think James Dearden did well on such a small budget too, what ever did happen to him anyway? I used to love watching A Kiss Before Dying when ever it was on TV, it's chessey as hell but I love it. The only problem I have with Rogue Trader is that Ewan McGregor doesn't look anything like Nick Leeson and Leeson comes over as a little nicer than I really think he but I'm glad they didn't go down the mushy Hollywood route as they could have done with regards to his illness (although thinking about it I'm not sure if he had been diagnosed just then).
November 15, 2012

Super Reviewer

Biodrama that gives the inside look at how a good man can go bad....really bad. This is a great example of stupidity, and how bad choices in life can create downward spirals. This man took the ride all the way to the bottom..
October 26, 2012

Super Reviewer

In the current climate, where it's almost fashionable to bash the banker, it would be all too simple to go easy on films which paint a broadly negative picture of our financial system. But we must remember that such films have to weather the storm as much as the people they are portraying, and that they must remain relevant when the markets go back up (or down). Rogue Trader doesn't manage to do this, being occasionally arresting but mostly disappointing.

There's no doubt that the story of Nick Leeson deserved to be put on screen. His story is indicative of two big trends in 1980s and 1990s commerce: new blood flowing into the City of London from outside of traditional circles, and intense levels of greed and materialism after Big Bang, which were (temporarily) curbed by the stock market crash of 1987.

Our expectations are raised further by the talent on either side of the camera. Ewan McGregor had recently made his name in Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's first big transatlantic hit. The writer-director James Dearden had previously written the screenplay for Fatal Attraction, which captured another aspect of the 1980s zeitgeist, namely the AIDS epidemic. And the film is scored by Richard Hartley, who arranged the music for both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its sequel Shock Treatment.

The big problem with Rogue Trader is that it very quickly falls between two stalls. On the one hand, it wants to be a raucous, lads'-night-out comedy, in the manner of The Full Monty or, if you must, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The film contains numerous scenes of broad, bawdy comedy, such as Leeson and his colleagues mooning the girls in the bar. On the other hand, it wants to be a hard-hitting zeitgeist thriller about greed and how the stock market is based on lying - a sort of Wall Street for the late-1990s.

The basic point which Rogue Trader makes is to draw an analogy between the stock market and gambling. The film contends that both are at heart based on luck and the ability to lie consistently enough to cover up one's mistakes; the only difference is the amount of money changing hands. It's hardly a ground-breaking analysis of global finance, and for much of the running time it is used to excuse or mitigate our increasing incredulity towards the central character. But at least the emphasis on luck makes us root for the central protagonist, even when we know in our hearts that his luck won't change.

Rogue Trader's first flaw in terms of storytelling is that it fails to adequately explain the workings of the futures market. When Leeson is first coaching his team, he explains the basics of futures trading using salt, pepper and coffee cups, showing how they are betting on the future value of a commodity and aiming to make a profit by selling it at a higher price.

It's a welcome and reasonable explanation, but as the film barrels forward these layman's-term scenes are too few and far between. When it tries to explain what is going on, the film conveys it in an incoherent way: in one scene, Leeson talks to himself while hitting a punch bag, hitting it so hard and so often that we can only make out odd words. It is possible to explain something this complex without resorting entirely to exposition, but the film seems even less interested in the mechanics of trading than Leeson was.

This problem is compounded by the early scenes, which have an obnoxious, geezer-y feel to them. During Leeson's early successes, we get numerous montages of him trawling around Singapore in a Porsche or entering drinking competitions. Even if Leeson's life really was like this, these scenes jar so prominently with the supposedly serious intentions of the film that it can feel like there are two different stories going on one - one about the stock market, the other about Club 18-30.

One could argue that the film is intending to paint our protagonists as obnoxious, to reinforce the hollow basis of their lifestyle and the unenviable behaviour it produces. This works up to a point, but because the film is based on Leeson's memoirs, it has a sympathetic vie, if not of the system as a whole, then of his personality within it. The film may be more ambiguous about his personal financial decisions, and his choosing to lie to cover his tracks, but it is never brave enough to suggest any kind of link between Leeson's personality and the consequences of his actions.

The film is also riddled with clichés, presenting a very hackneyed picture of both the trading floor and Barings Bank. Leeson is the archetypal fast-talking Cockney, whose catchphrase is something along the lines of "everything will be alright". When he first enters the bank to sort out the bonds, the cell bars slide back in front of his face - a shot that was already old when The Silence of the Lambs did it eight years earlier. His team wear horrible, tacky jackets on the trading floor, communicating with outlandish gestures, while his bosses are all stiff-upper-lipped, haughty, public school types. Add in an excitable Australian spouting business jargon and Anna Friel's oblivious wife, and you get a clear picture of a writer who isn't trying very hard.

Rogue Trader also falls short on a technical level. Dearden's direction is workmanlike, but his editing is frequently slapdash. His frequent use of quick cuts on the trading floor make things feel more like a music video, and his choice of angles is occasionally silly. We don't need to see Leeson's panicked expression from the other side of a computer screen, any more than we need a close-up of '88888' being typed in, as if we didn't get the point. The film ends up relying on Hartley's score to tell us when things are turning bad, and while that may be fine in a melodrama it doesn't work wonders here.

Having said all that, Rogue Trader does begin to pick up in its final act. After we have spent the best part of an hour trying to put up with clichés and platitudes, we start to get drawn in as we eventually appreciate just how bad things are. The turning point comes when Leeson stumbles into the toilets, checks that both cubicles are empty, and announced to his reflection that he has just lost £50m in one day.

From this point on there is a natural source of tension from the combination of the money involved and the time constraints, i.e. the bonuses and annual audit. The scene of Leeson having dinner with his bosses, knowing full well that he is draining their company dry, is very tensely orchestrated, and the dream sequence of Leeson owning up and the bankers choking works well. This is all slightly undercut by the airport scene, where Leeson imagines the photographers are his trading floor staff, and starts bidding in front of the press. But in general this kind of absurd interlude is the exception rather than the rule.

In terms of the performances, the cast do their best with second-rate material. Ewan McGregor has a habit of being the best thing in a bad movie, and he does have a believable sense of conviction even if we are not sure how much we should like him. Anna Friel is dealt a duff hand, having to spend a lot of her time being blissfully ignorant in mini-skirts, but she somehow carries herself with good grace. Out of the rest, only Tim McInnerny makes any impression, and he gets far too little screen time.

Rogue Trader is a sadly pedestrian telling of Nick Leeson's tragic tale. It has neither the comic spark of Trading Places nor the confidence of Wall Street or American Psycho, with regard to either the financial system or the pawns therein. The performances are likeable enough, and there is nothing offensively bad about the handling of the story. It needed to be told, but not in such a disappointing way.
September 14, 2011
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

"Rogue Trader" This movie is the true story of Nick Leeson
(the fantastic Ewan McGregor), the employee who broke the oldest bank in England, the Bearings Bank. Nick is an ambitious young man, son of a simple man who works with plaster, transferred to Singapore to operate in future market of derivatives. He was considered the best employee of Bearing Banks, but indeed he was gambling with high amounts of the bank and hiding the losses under a secret account number 88888. There are at least three points to highlight in this movie.
October 23, 2011

Super Reviewer

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