For dramatists, it’s hard to avoid putting the maneuvers of Wall Street elites in simple moral terms: The buying, shorting, hostile takeovers, and insider shenanigans all yield gains without regard for the real-world consequences of mass layoffs and busted pension plans. The trouble is, it’s the same story, told by Oliver Stone twice in Wall Street and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and told again in the threadbare indie $upercapitalist, about a hedge-fund whiz kid who loses his way. As Charlie Sheen and Shia LaBeouf went, so goes writer-producer-star Derek Ting in his journey from hungry, precocious young trader to club-hopping, know-it-all douchebag, before he finally hits bottom and gets his redemption arc. The only elements that change are the flashy accessories—the countertop sushi-maker (Sheen), the Ducati motorcycle (LaBeouf), the white stretch limo (Ting)—and those tend to glamorize a lifestyle the filmmakers mean to condemn. It’s how new Gordon Gekkos are born.
In $upercapitalist, an exceedingly modest budget undercuts all that conspicuous consumption while also making the world of high finance look as chintzy as community theater. After establishing Ting’s brilliance—a perfect SAT score at 14, dropping out of MIT, always being right when everyone else is wrong—the film sets him up at a Wall Street hedge-fund company, where he immediately impresses people by guessing right on a Federal Reserve interest-rate drop. His boss (Linus Roache) sends him off to Hong Kong to work on a hostile takeover of a family-run tech company that’s experiencing some instability at the top. Darren E. Scott plays the devil on his shoulder, a slickster who introduces him to hot clubs and fast women while pushing him to act like a financial buzzard.
$upercapitalist adds a love interest (Kathy Uyen) and some daddy issues to yank its hero in the other direction, but a gentle push is all that’s needed in a narrative this pre-cooked. Ting and director Simon Yin make their moral case without a shred of ambiguity—just good guys, bad guys, and its hero in the middle—and the company under attack is treated like a ma-and-pa operation, more general store than international corporate outfit. With its minimal settings and focus on the abstract lingo of market transactions, Margin Call stands as the new model for how to do Wall Street on a budget, embedding its moral themes in language and complex characters. By comparison, $upercapitalist seems naïve about both the market and the humans who operate in it.