Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Abacus Small Enough to Go to Jail theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steve James
Produced by Mark Mitten
Julie Goldman
Music by Joshua Abrams
Cinematography Tom Bergmann
Edited by John Farbrother
David E. Simpson
Production
companies
Distributed by PBS Distribution
Frontline
ITVS
Release date
  • September 11, 2016 (2016-09-11) (TIFF)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $80,527[1]

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a 2016 American documentary film by Steve James.[2] The film centers on the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank situated in Manhattan's Chinatown in New York City which, because it was deemed "small enough to jail" rather than "too big to fail", became the only financial institution to actually face criminal charges following the subprime mortgage crisis.[3]

The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was first runner-up for the People's Choice Award in the documentary category.[4] It aired on the PBS documentary series Frontline in 2017[5] and is available for online streaming at no charge.[6] The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards.

Critical response[edit]

Abacus received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 93%, based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10.[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club gave the film a C+, considering the film to be a "pleasant" yet "inessential" film, with its "unusually literal" documentary style applied to a narrative that could have been efficiently told in a magazine article. Vishnevetsky stated that "[p]erhaps the problem is that he isn’t one to extrapolate, interrogate, or pry subjects open; his best films are chronicles of hopes, dreams, and hardships made possible by the trust James works to elicit from his subjects."[9]

Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, however, declared Abacus to be "another classic" from Steve James,[10] giving the film 4 out of 4 stars. He praised James' "knack for finding the universal within the specific, and often a much larger and more complex story nestled within a specific account of one event." Seitz also pointed out that even though the film is engrossing as a legal thriller, "it's even more notable as a portrait of a community. James... has constructed a rich and revealing context for this tale, and it's one that is rarely showcased in American cinema.... a thriving community [Chinatown] that defines itself in relation the mainstream of American culture and that is aspirational but never entirely comfortable or accepted."[11]

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