Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Pit

Film #390


Follows a scrappy group of commodities traders as they try to make a living trading coffee on the New York Board of Trade before electronic trading threatens to make their way of life obsolete.

Year 2, Film #25

THE REVIEW: Short and sweet, and educational. The Pit continues the documentary chain, and more specifically, documentaries on the financial system. Instead of a broad look at the economy in general, the focus of The Pit is the traders on the commodities market. Most people have probably heard of the stock market; fewer have probably heard of the commodities market even though it affects them everyday. That cup of coffee that wakes you up or the glass of orange juice you wash down your breakfast with, along with many other commodities, are bought and sold by traders who, in effect, have the power to raise or lower the price of said commodity. Something you’re probably more familiar with is the sight of a whole bunch of men screaming and gesturing weird things with their hands and others furiously scribbling things on little scraps of paper. Those are the traders, and that’s what The Pit is about.

I’m fascinated about foreign languages — I’m not good at them, but I’m fascinated nonetheless. French, German, Latin are three examples, but the language of traders is even more fascinating. The words they’re speaking are English, and the gestures they do (hold up fingers for numbers) are fairly common, but the speed and combination make them a foreign language to me. The Pit does two things well: it establishes what a trader does and how they do their job under all the stress of being on the floor. The what — buying and selling futures, options, calls, speculations, etc. — is confusing enough in and of itself. For me, I’ve heard these words many times referring to financials and every time I’m still unclear as to what the differences are. The Pit has some lovely animations, not extremely well-produced but very effective, that attempt to illustrate all of these concepts. A few of the traders then explain how they do their jobs, showing the hand signals (fingers pointed away is sell, towards is buy; among other lessons learned), what the importance of screaming like a madman is, and why they dislike electronic trading (and why they believe strongly in the old, open outcry system).

Much like The Flaw, The Pit also suffered what I’ll name “new person syndrome”. While only featuring a runtime of just over 60 minutes (it really is short and to-the-point) I still wasn’t able to connect with all the individual traders and their personal stories. A few of the people, like Joe “Hollywood” Digiso and the bearded-guy who went to Harvard were recognizable and easy to track throughout the movie. But others, like the guy building the pool and the guy who switched from coffee to sugar trading, were much harder to follow. For example, those are the most identifiable traits I can remember about those two guys; I don’t remember their thoughts or skill at trading, I remembered one was building a pool and another only stuck out at the end when he said he made $20,000 in one day.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter too much that I won’t remember all the players in The Pit. While I think this documentary tried to be a character piece that examined the lives and changes of all these people, the really strength of it and what I enjoyed the most was learning this secret language, this secret life that isn’t secret at all. I’ll look like an idiot waving my hand with different numbers of fingers in different orientations, and I’m not fluent enough to really do that to begin with. But The Pittaught me more than I knew and provided some entertainment in the process. At 60 minutes, it was the perfect time. Any longer and it would have turned from fascinating to boring.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5