“Wall Street: A Wondering Trip” is a lazy little non-fiction film which provides a thumbnail sketch of how the financial epicenter operates. Actually, it is more of a hangnail sketch — no one can come away from this offering with a clue on what makes Wall Street click.
Swiss filmmakers Andreas Hoessli shot most of the film in late 2002 to early 2003, as the war clouds were encircling Iraq. Yet Hoessli is surprisingly polite in questioning the Wall Street traders and brokers on the effects war could have on the economy. He also stays away from potentially rude questions regarding the dot-com bubble burst of 2000, the crushing recession of 2001-02 and the crippling impact 9/11 had on both the American and global economies.
Strangely, no one interviewed here seems to want to talk about Wall Street. Three executives of major financial services firms are interviewed, but all of them spend more time recalling their pre-Wall Street lives (one was a refugee from Nazi Germany and the other two were military officers in the Vietnam War). A side visit to a special program designed to “demystify” Wall Street for inner city public school students nervously dances around the blatantly obvious lack of non-whites on the NYSE trading floor and in the higher echelons of the major financial houses.
A few Wall Street types who are interviewed come across as being either painfully stupid or chronically obnoxious. One workaholic who arrived in his Wall Street office on the morning of the September 11 attack could not understand why the security guards in his building were demanding that he evacuate the scene immediately; this dope clearly didn’t connect the sight of an airplane engine lying on the New York street with the possibility of something bigger than another day’s trading floor activity. Another former trader happily recounts how he insulted Swiss counterparts with his boorish focus on getting a maximum salary. These folks offer sad proof that money can buy anything but class.
Richard Grasso, the former CEO of the NYSE, is briefly interviewed here. The film then tacks on a sorry epilogue which recalls the scandal of Grasso’s mega-payout when he retired in the fall of 2003. But why didn’t Hoessli go back and ask hard questions of the Wall Street veterans about Grasso’s greed? It would’ve pumped some much needed oxygen into this inert movie.