Imagine a world in which men had been pushed to the point where they willingly put all of their money on the line in a fight to the death; the winner walking away with everything in the other’s possession. Before starting the fight, you find a quiet area, making sure you’re not followed, and dig a hole in which the loser’s body will be placed. If you’re good at it, this can be quite a lucrative business – with frequent sparring partners getting involved out of pure desperation, having lost their job and finding themselves drowning in debt.
Well, Traders brings this scenario to life. An Irish thriller with darkly comedic elements, it’s set around the 2008 financial crash – indeed the film opens with the two central characters losing their highly paid jobs and facing the reality of being unable to afford the lavish lifestyle’s they had been living up to that point.
The film has a definite tongue-in-cheek style to certain parts of its script and acting performances; a tone which some may find slightly jarring as it tackles serious issues like depression and even suicide, resulting from unemployment and debt. But Traders does in fact handle these issues well. It simply does so with a refreshingly irreverent attitude, and dares not to make them the overall focus of the film – because the focus here is instead about finding thrills in a hopeless situation. That’s what the 2008 crash was. The so-called ‘death of the Celtic Tiger’, following a boom for the Irish economy throughout the 1990s and mid-2000s, left many feeling as hopeless as the characters of this film. To look back on it with a sense of humour is something one would like to think is warranted, if not necessary for moving forward.
Jointly written and directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy, starring Killian Scott as its central ‘trader’ Harry Fox, with John Bradley as his hapless friend Vernon (to whom the concept of trading can be attributed; originally pitched as his new ‘business idea’), Traders has been named in the same breath as Fight Club (1999) by critics. It’s not hard to see why; in basic terms, both films involve fighting, men falling back to primal instincts in the face of societal disillusionment, and both provide a subtle critique of their cultural backdrop in entertaining fashion.
This film, though, had a much smaller budget, and in general feels like a more eccentric premise; so that it manages to be almost as successful as David Fincher’s accomplished cult classic is all the more impressive. In time Traders itself may garner a similar reputation in some circles, though its tone may turn others off. For me it was undoubtedly one of the festival’s best surprises.
8 / 10