Panic Fest Film Review: “Trader”

Starring: Kimberly-Sue Murray, Shaun Benson and Stephen Bogaert
Directed by: Corey Stanton
Rated: NR
Running Time: 84 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Sometimes the strangest things in life end up becoming the best fodder for films. Since the first image flickered with life on-screen, movies have commented on politics, government squabbles, war, famine, Hollywood itself, etc. All of it has been caught by the watchful eye of directors looking to make a statement, whether it’s subtle or blunt. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the pandemic was a breeding ground for ideas, but I can honestly say I never expected a director to watch the GameStop squeeze in later 2021 and go, “That gives me an idea…”

Does the lead of “Trader” have a name? No. Kimberly-Sue Murray leads the way in “Trader,” a film shot in the apartment basement of a building with Murray as the only person we’ll see for the next 84 minutes. She lets us know what kind of person she is in the opening minutes as she scams an elderly person over the phone out of their credit card and personal information so she can dump some funds into her bank account. What does she want to do with that money? Stonking some tendies to the moon and back (Sorry, r/WallStreetBets lingo). I’m sure that sounds like a boring premise to some, but I assure you it is not. Murray, who delivers a tour de force performance, carries this film on her back as she learns about stock trading, learns about options trading, and attempts to hedge her way into a cutthroat world that may just end up eating her alive, unless she bites first.

Murray may just be the sole reason we watch “Trader.” It’s not a character study, but what we get out of her character is personal financial determination mixed with sociopathic tendencies. She’s a smart cookie, and will possibly break your arm for doubting it. She eventually makes her way through the message boards and connects with a broker named Bob who plays the stock market for social media clout and, of course, the millions of dollars. Murray’s character aches for that life and that luxury, but as one person in a basement on her lonesome, she has to make due with what she’s given. She’s been given Bob the Broker and will lie her way to a seat at the broker table.

Throughout the film, we’re told through discussions with Bob that Murray used to be a victim of sex trafficking, but can we believe that? Most of the time we see her lying, even to Bob, so when she does cry and seemingly stares off into the distance with all the seriousness of the world in her eyes, we have to believe her. But it’s that same kind of personality that she uses to fool others, whether it’s the geriatric at the beginning with his credit card in hand or Bob teasing a better life. One of the more fun aspects of the film is attempting to piece together who Murray’s character is and isn’t.

Even if you know nothing about GameStop or stock trading, “Trader” is a low-budget techno-thriller with plenty on its mind and plenty more to say. Murray gives the best performance of the year, so far, with equal amounts of pain and pleasure during the entire process. Murray’s character is physically, mentally and emotionally working through a past that’s never revealed, but watching her kick and crawl through the boy’s game at Wall Street is an absolute delight. If you’re lucky enough to see this on a streaming service or anywhere in the future, give it a watch and prepare to be blown away by its mesmerizing simplicities. 

Film Review: “GameStop: Rise of the Players”

Directed by: Jonah Tulis
Rated: NR
Running Time: 94 minutes

There’s a current trend happening with documentaries and I’m pointing the finger of blame directly at Youtube. This trend is to hop on a big moment in contemporary history immediately and then attempt to encompass and explain the entire scenario in a brief documentary film. I blame Youtube because Youtube content creators are doing this on a daily basis, sometimes foregoing things like facts and pertinent information that sometimes comes with the passage of time. It’s kind of like a “strike when the iron is hot” idea.

Since my full-time job is in news, I will admit that this wasn’t a structure created by Youtube, but I would say was created by TV news organizations that are wanting to quickly and briefly explain complex situations and condense lengthy interviews. Sometimes it works, but that requires a news room with a large staff with good ethics and knowledge of storytelling. So, when a documentary like “GameStop: Rise of the Players” comes out, I have to wonder if what I’m being told is the God honest truth because so many players in this story are still actively participating in what happened.

If you didn’t know, or had been doing a media break last year (and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you), a little brick-and-mortar store by the name of GameStop was, at least through public perception, dying. Stores were closing, the stock was starting to look like it was going to be worth less than a few mere dollars and the video game industry itself was evolving towards a digital market. But something odd happened, the stock began to double, then triple, then quadruple, in value, but it kept going. Not just over a period of months or week, but hours and then minutes. So, what was going on?

“GameStop: Rise of the Players” kind of explains all this with spliced footage of talking heads on 24-hour news networks, but that really isn’t the meat of the film. The best thing the documentary offers is one-on-one interviews with stock traders who benefited from GameStop’s meteoric stock. Some are simply down on their luck individuals looking to turn things around by, quite literally, gambling on the stock market. It’s these personal stories that make us root for these individuals, as well as GameStop’s stock, throughout the film. Some of the people benefiting were always going to be well off, so I can’t speak to my sympathy or rooting of them, but for the individuals who were having to move back in with their parents or who had received a devastating cancer diagnosis, I’m glad to see their David vs. Goliath story on-screen.

That being said, I wish the film had more context which wouldn’t be possible in the time frame the documentary was created. A quick Google search shows that the GameStop stock is still percolating with hot gossip, whether people are talking about the stock making another climb to infamy or media outlets looking at the aftermath as if the stock will now be left to die. The story of GameStop has yet to be fully told, yet here we are with a documentary claiming to do just that. While I knew most of what was being discussed, I couldn’t help but think that even someone who knew the basics of what happened would still be confused about what was happening. At times the documentary seems to forget that maybe you don’t know about certain things, like how these people were talking to each other over Discord or the phenomenon of people seeking financial advice on Youtube. “GameStop: Rise of the Players” attempts to tell a story, but just like GameStop’s old brick-and-mortar stores, it offers nothing new.