Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2016)

This year I really committed to watching all the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature and therefore, though I wasn't crazy about its subject, I watched Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.

This documentary centers on the Abacus Federal Savings Banks, a small, family-owned community bank in Chinatown, New York. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan's District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Abacus became the only financial institution to face criminal charges as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

Not only it's not my cup of tea but I know very little about this topic and all I know is quite confused. I was hoping Steve James documentary would make it a bit more clear for me, but it didn't.

While Abacus: Small Enough to Jail works well as a portrait of a family who was unjustly given the blame for what happened --the fact that they put the blame on a small family bank and did nothing to the big fishes, and the way these people were treated really angered me--, it's an empowering story that shows how powerful a community can be, and works as a reminder of how messed up the justice system in the United States is, when it comes to making things more clear for something who doesn't know a lot about this subject, it fails.

The documentary introduces all the "players" and explains how each is associated with the bank and the family, but the way it's presented is mediocre, to say the least. A lot of scenes --mainly those in which the members of the family talk over each other but say nothing at all-- are a distraction from the subject.

Also, this is not the most engaging documentary I've seen. Actually, this is probably the less engaging. I lost interest many times and I had to take several breaks before finishing it. It's not terrible, it's just forgettable. And, in my opinion, doesn't deserve the Oscar nomination.


  1. This was the only doc nominee (aside from Faces Places which was still in theaters here) I couldn't find, and the subject matter didn't make me care too much. It's a shame it doesn't make it easy to understand. I'd probably be in the same boat.

    1. It's a sign then! This is easily the weakest doc nominee of this year.