The Bet

September 30th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

“Years ago when I was acting I stopped reading all reviews, good and bad,” says Mark Lee. “It’s hard though, it’s a bit like being a junkie and you find yourself crawling back.”

Lee’s just been telling Xpress how important critical review and the resulting word of mouth is for his film The Bet. As with most Australian films, the marketing budget wouldn’t pay for the wrap party hookers on a typical Hollywood production, so word of mouth is going to be crucial.

That means The Bet will have to be very different to Wall Street, The Bank and the many other corporate-set morality tales that have come before it. “I’d lie if I said they hadn’t crossed my mind and there are similarities between the two,” Lee says. “What makes this film different is that it has that comforting yet intriguing darkness. We eschewed the cool grey and fluoros, we lit every desk in camera, we gelled the windows to stop the light coming in, and all those visual ideas I came up with gave it a point of difference from those other films.”

If it sounds like Lee’s a natural born director, he was once known for a very different craft. If you’re old enough to remember, that was him opposite Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s much-revered Gallipoli.

Knowing every other interviewer in the country will start with ‘what have you been doing since ‘Gallipoli?’, Xpress promises not to even mention it, but Lee laughs and frankly shares the ensuing years including his years of theatre work, being lost in depression during the late 80s, subsequent directing of a few shorts and the mutual industry friend who introduced him to writer/producer Caroline Gerard, a former corporate lawyer who’d written a script that was almost Greek myth set in modern corporate Sydney.

Lee describes it as an archetype with the heir apparent, the adventurer, the ladies in waiting and the court fool. Rising stockbroker Will (Newton) makes a bet with suave but nasty banker Angus (Young). Both will put up $100,000 and the one who makes the most money for his firm in 90 days will take the lot.

The Bet starts off slow, clich├ęd and slightly amateurish, looking every bit the cheap copy of Wall Street you expect. Stick with it. It gets more compelling and engaging as time passes until a shocking climatic act that will really haunt you.

You expect a plain revenge story with a nasty villain, heroic protagonist and a beautiful lady to keep the hero on the straight and narrow. Almost every element is there, the whole thing set up to be very expected but ending up anything but.

There are still faults. The relationship between Will and Angus is never explored enough and you never really know how they feel about or know each other. It would also help to know all the jargon and parlance of high finance, but even when you don’t know what’s going on in a detailed sense, Lee and his actors convey the building sense of tension brilliantly.

Despite needing stronger dramatic markers to tell you what was going on, there’s an escalating sense of desperation and despair and some great performances to carry it, particular the always-wonderful Aden Young, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time as the smooth, lizard-like Angus.

Let’s hope it’s the first of many by the new and improved Mark Lee.

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