Rollover (1981)


USA. 1981.


Director – Alan J. Pakula, Screenplay – David Shaber, Story – David Shaber, Howard Kohn & David Weir, Producer – Bruce Gilbert, Photography – Giuseppe Rotunno, Music – Michael Small, Production Design – George Jenkins. Production Company – IPC Film


Kris Kristofferson (Hub Smith), Jane Fonda (Lee Winters), Hume Cronyn (Maxwell Emery), Bob Gunton (Sal Naftari), Josef Sommer (Roy Lefcourt), Macon McCalman (Jerry Fewster)


When the president of New York’s Borough National Bank is murdered in his office, banking troubleshooter Hub Smith is sent in to sort the bank out. When Hub sees the president’s wife, former movie star Lee Winters, being treated patronisingly by the board of directors, he supports her bid to become the new chairperson. The two also become lovers. After obtaining a $500 million loan from Saudi Arabia to keep the bank afloat, they puzzle over why the Saudis do not withdraw the interest repayments. This leads them to uncover a plan by the Saudis to withdraw all their money in cash from banks everywhere all at once, something that banks will never be able to cope with and will end up bankrupting the Western world.

Rollover is a rather unusual thriller, one that for once does not predict the end of the world coming via nuclear holocaust or plague but through the deliberate disabling of the Western economy. A film set in the world of high finance is a good deal more challenging than the average thriller and certainly makes for a complex and difficult to follow plot – trying to follow the talk of positions points, bond marks, venture capital and Eurodollar exchange rates almost makes it like watching a foreign film without subtitles – and to no real surprise Rollover was not a box-office success.

The density of the material is something that both Jane Fonda and Kris Kristofferson seem clearly daunted by too – at times, they seem reduced to suitcases that open and spout banking chatter. Although there is at least one very good performance from Hume Cronyn who demonstrates a sharp predatoriness far removed from the feelgood roles as a senior he was stuck with in the latter half of the 1980s.

However, with perseverance the plot has a certain effectiveness. The unveiling of the scheme and the edgy gamble in saving the bank from the rollover hold suspense. Overall though, Rollover fails to grip as a thriller, with Alan J. Pakula’s direction remaining too stodgy by half. The ending, wherein comes its real science-fictional content, remains too downbeat by half, despite a ludicrously optimistic reuniting of the lovers. A more credible ending surely would have had Kris Kristofferson defeating or exposing the scheme, which would have at least satisfied the requirements of the thriller form. Ultimately, it is also a film that heavily depends on and unsubtly plays to a certain form of racism that was prevalent in the 1970s – the fear of the increasing economic strength of the OPEC nations and of the Arabic stranglehold placed on the Western economy.

Director Alan J. Pakula had made excellent award-winning films like All the President’s Men (1976) and Sophie’s Choice (1982), as well as several other films with Jane Fonda including Klute (1971) and Comes a Horseman (1978). His only other venture into genre material was the dream horror film Dream Lover (1986).

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