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The Deal

by Tony Medley

The screening for this was at the Writers Guild theater on Doheny. Sitting next to me was a cute blonde. In the middle of the picture I leaned over and asked her if she found Christian Slater attractive. “He’s not my type,” she said, “but he is sexy.” After the film I asked if she understood the plot. “I should,” she replied. “I wrote it.” So I unintentionally violated one of my rules, never get to know anyone involved with a film I’m reviewing because I don’t want to be biased against honest criticism out of fear of hurting someone I like. And Ruth Epstein, who not only wrote but produced, is a very nice lady. So I’m revealing my potential bias up front.

Another is that I know something about the oil industry. I was General Counsel for an oil company back when I practiced law full time. And I knew someone who made more than a million dollars a month doing oil deals under the old Federal Energy Regulations (a Carter era idea that made my acquaintance and Mark Rich hundreds of millions of dollars, all at the expense of the American consumer).

Ruth knows whereof she writes. She worked for Goldman Sachs for ten years before starting her script and she spent seven years writing it. She had advice from Captains of Industry. From my experience, what’s here about the oil business is pretty accurate. But the problem I had with the film is that the plot is not clear. Even though I understand how the oil industry works, I had a very hard time deciphering what was going on.

Tom Hanson (Slater) is asked by Jared Tolson (Robert Loggia) to write a “fairness opinion” about an acquisition that Tolson’s company, Condor Oil & Gas wants to make of a Russian competitor. Hanson’s best friend, who was handling the deal, has been murdered. Instead of asking the oil analyst for Tom’s firm, Delaney & Strong, Hank Weiss (Colm Feore), Tolson prefers Tom, who knows nothing about the oil industry. It’s never made clear that the reason Jared wants Tom is precisely because he knows nothing about the oil industry, so he’ll write his “fariness letter” out of ignorance. Unfortunately, Epstein makes Hank out to be a heavy, apparently jealous of Tom. This dilutes the story because it obfuscates Jared’s true intention.

Tom has hired a hot young Harvard MBA, Abbie (Selma Blair) to put together an innovative idea she has to acquire oil credits from companies not using them to sell to companies who need them, and also, maybe make time with her. Tom also has Anna (Angie Harmon) making play for him. That was the question I asked Ruth, whether Tom was such an attractive guy that these two women would pursue him.

Because the plot is not really clear, this is a confusing trip. Epstein put together the financing for “The Deal” herself and is one of the producers. This film epitomizes why writers should not be producers of what they write. What Epstein needed was someone to look at it objectively, someone to tell her that the story, while interesting, was not clear. If I, who have experience in the oil industry, found myself at sea, what’s going to happen to the ordinary viewer?

The music (Christopher Lennertz) is terrific. Not bad for a first try, but next time Epstein should choose whether she wants to be a writer or a producer, but not both.