Remember the good old 80s, when Ronald Reagan ruled the roost? The stock market was part of the zeitgeist at large, but in a pre-CNBC way; it was there in the news, but Mainstreet America wasn't as plugged into it then as she is today. Consider that stocks can be bought and sold over the web with the click of a mouse- being coddled by a broker was so old news, so old economy. Information is online in reams and ready to be accessed at a moment's notice, one didn't have to peruse a bunch of pulpy pages to figure out what the return-on-equity of Disney calculated to. It's against this backdrop that OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY finds itself, a competent and interesting piece of film which presents two sides to the hostile-takeover-and-subsequent-liquidation scenario.
Danny DeVito portrays the odious Lawrence Garfield, affectionately christened with the salubrious sobriquet "Larry The Liquidator." Garfield loves one thing better than his beloved doughnut pastries: woefully undervalued companies. When his computer screen filters out the latest hot prospect, New England Wire & Cable, his shark-like senses smell the blood immediately and he sets out for a meeting with its owner, Andrew Jorgenson, played to great curmudgeonly effect by Gregory Peck.
Jorgenson is a fatherly figure to his workers, respected and revered almost to the point of deification, one would imagine. When Garfield points out that his company's stock price is out of whack in relation to its book value, Jorgenson is staunch in his reply: get out, and take your Wall-Street greed with you. But everyone knows that the little guy isn't going to be cowed so easily; he's as feisty and fanatic as he is sly and devious. They know he'll find a way to bulldoze over Jorgenson and his twenty percent ownership.
Enter Penelope Ann Miller's character, Kate Sullivan, a firecracker counselor who is as sexy as she is intelligent. Sullivan is the estranged stepdaughter of Jorgenson; antagonistic though the pair is, she is nevertheless willing to help him keep his business out of the hands of Garfield. Only problem is, Garfield is having difficulty keeping his hands off Ms. Sullivan. As detestable as the situation is, she decides to exert a bit of sexual leverage over him to facilitate achievement of her goals. The film eventually climaxes with a raucous shareholder's meeting and a pernicious proxy fight.
OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY serves as an excellent cinematic snapshot of that specific period of time when buzzphrases like "trickle-down economics" and "Star Wars defense system" were constantly uttered in media outlets and watercoolers alike. It's not a film which relies on an overabundance of clever camera moves or convoluted plot devices; instead, it builds from a foundation of useful thespian techniques and dexterously crafted dialogue (the source for the screenplay is a stage production, so it is obvious why the lines would be so precise). DeVito, Miller, and Peck excel in their roles, making them come alive with a conservative approach; the viewer never feels as if he/she is being suffocated by cloying histrionics. The triangle formed by these three characters is a dynamic one, much more expanisve than its one hundred eighty degrees.
DeVito in particular requires a spotlight look; it isn't so much that he's invented any novel blueprints toward his discipline- instead, one realizes upon post-viewing analysis that he fit the part like the proverbial glove. Garfield's vitriolic, killer-instinct demeanor proved a suitable substrate for the actor to react with; in the end, a more than successful catalysis is the result. But it wasn't just the acerbic tendencies he gelled with. Garfield possesses a healthy quanta of vulnerability, as he is also a lonely loner, looking for love and companionship; DeVito triumphed with this aspect as well (think of his outing in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, with Billy Crystal). One strategy which would have added depth to the film would have been an ongoing voiceover for Garfield; his insights would have enriched the overall narrative and injected it with a unique energy.
The movie, above all, presents a balanced take on a fascinating issue: is the hostile corporate takeover an evil act? Although one could argue that a subtextual ideology is present- in fact, in many ways, the script can be considered a yuletide cautionary tale written by Dickens sans the spectral spirits- it can easily be dismissed; there is never a feeling that the viewer is being spoonfed one propaganda or another. The soliloquies rendered by Jorgenson and Garfield at the end form the killer application of the piece. They deliver two diverse, diametrically opposed filters on the same subject, and both participants challenge all of us to come up with a sane, informed opinion regarding it. Jorgenson isn't right necessarily, and neither is Garfield; as we begin to squint the lenses of our collective mental faculties, we see that the black and white sides of the arguments converge into a tenuous gradient of grays. Both are idealists, and perhaps it is accurate to say that whatever set of ideals fit the mitigating circumstances of the time will win out in the end.
OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY is a film worthy of attention. It won't change a person's life, certainly, but it will provide good entertainment value and an educational look at corporate dealings. Even in these post-80s times, it is still more than relevant; in fact, it will always be relevant. After all, every generation has its own Chrylser bailout, LTCM collapse, and Enron debacle; you can most definitely invest your money in that.