Bank Job follows artist couple Hilary Powell and Daniel Edelstyn as they try their hand at a revolutionary brand of financial activism. Inspired by the Strike Debt movement following 2008’s crippling financial crash, as well as their own debt from filmmaking pursuits, the Walthamstow pair plan to even out the economical inequality that plagues their town and the majority of Britain. After creating their own “rebel bank” to sell £40,000 worth of Hilary’s artwork (in the clever form of “counterfeit” cash) to the local community, Powell and Edelstyn were able to purchase and cancel an exorbitant amount of local debt and save many from total ruination in the process. Ultimately, they are able to take shrewd advantage of debt’s eventual reduction, purchasing £1.2 million of it for only £20,000 and scrubbing a lot of looming high-interest debt once and for all.
It’s a very noble cause – and one that could have widespread impact if enough Britons contribute. The doc’s effectiveness though is a mixed affair. There is the essential focus on the rising hardships of Walthamstow’s charitable organisations and the likeable locals who run them – e.g a food bank, soup kitchen etc – and a heartfelt portrait is made on each without the filmmakers ever giving into forced sentimentality. But this shouldn’t imply that the movie is free from any low-key manipulation.
In terms of drawing out their goal to the audience, the directors use incredibly selective material, occasionally with disagreeable self-assuredness. Co-director Edelstyn acknowledges little to no potential detriments to his and Powell’s grand plan, instead only interviewing a choice of economic experts who he knows already agree with him (like Ann Pettifor, David Graeber and more). The plan is certainly well laid out otherwise, but at times, the lack of any opposing professional thought to highlight the scheme’s drawbacks devalues the feature to feel smugly one-sided. A film that presents two (or more) sides lets the audience make up its own mind; a movie that presents one side is making up their minds for them.
Despite that, Powell and Edelstyn deserve merit for trying to provide a possible solution to a long-neglected problem, while bringing whoever they can along for the ride. The rich elite (who the work doesn’t cut into enough) are acknowledged as being too naive to solve anything, leaving the spirited and empowered public to band together and do it themselves. “Power to the people” is just a dream to some cynics, but this flick proves it can encourage change – and then some.
Bank Job is released digitally on demand on 28th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Bank Job here: