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Vera Sung, Jill Sung and Thomas Sung. Chronicles the legal struggles of Abacus, a small, family-run Manhattan bank that was the only financial institution to be criminally indicted in the wake of the 2008 mortgage crisis.

GAT

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Directed by
Steve James
Starring
Thomas Sung, Vera Sung, Jill Sung, Heather Sung, Cyrus Vance Jr.
Genre
Documentary
Classification
G
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

What's this? A David vs. Goliath saga, and the David is a bank? True story. From the excellent documentarian Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame), the deal here involves the owners of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a smallish family-run institution based in New York's Chinatown. After the bank turns in one of its loan officers for bribery, the Manhattan District Attorney's office swoops in sledgehammer-to-mosquito style and indicts the whole bank with mortgage fraud.

Those owners are the Sung family, led by the dapper first-generation immigrant Thomas Sung, who models himself after the savings-and-loans hero George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life. His daughters are all sharp lawyers; the bank takes on the government in a five-year court battle that seemed to be a waste of the prosecutor's time.

Failing to convict any of the Wall Street banking behemoths after the market meltdown of 2008, were they looking for a small-potatoes scapegoat? Maybe they didn't care for Chinatown's bustling off-the-books economy? The film's director, who would make an excellent character witness for the defence, raises the questions but frustratingly doesn't answer them in an otherwise compelling documentary.

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