"Abacus is an exemplary piece of filmmaking."
"Disarmingly human moments – the Sung daughters, all high-powered lawyers, fret over their 80-year-old father’s disappointing sandwich – pepper this compelling courtroom drama. (4/5 Stars)"
"James returns with another unique and humane story - Abacus: Small Enough to Jail - which looks at the unfair treatment of a family owned Chinese-American bank in New York’s Chinatown, who remain the only US bank to be charged with any crimes relating to the 2008 mortgage crisis."
"Veteran documentary-maker Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) is back with an engrossing story: the extraordinary fiasco of the Abacus bank prosecution...A tale of hypocrisy, judicial bullying and racism."
"James paints a warm portrait of a Chinatown thriving off the backs of small businesses (many of them supported by Abacus itself)...Abacus: Small Enough to Jail creates thriller-like levels of suspense over its brisk 90 minutes, and reignites our fury and curiosity over the events of 2008."
"One of the great documentaries of recent years."
"Like The Big Short, Abacus manages to make intricate financial dealings both understandable and gripping, and sometimes even funny."
"An uproariously entertaining film, one that could have only been made by the steady hand of a veteran like James...If you enjoyed 2015's THE BIG SHORT, consider this a worthy companion piece."
"The film offers three very important perspectives on economic equality and minority-group advancement. First, Abacus provides a window into the operation of a small family-run, community-focused ethnic bank, both in general and in a time of crisis. Second, Abacus exposes the incompetence of a prosecution that, in failing to understand the cultural context of an ethnic minority bank and its customers, winds up exploiting and reinforcing economic stereotypes and biases about them. Finally, Abacus illustrates the importance of informal and flexible lending practices to bringing the unbanked and underbanked members of racial and ethnic minorities into the formal market for financial services and credit, a notion known as “the democratization of credit.”"
"What James does here is hone in on the close-knit Chines-American family, who they are and what they are prepared to do to fight the charges against them in court in 2015, while giving equal air time to the defense attorney’s office to get their perspective. I can see how this David and Goliath story would appeal to James (Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters), because he’s a director who has a knack for bringing to light the humanity of people who would otherwise be underestimated or overlooked.
"James gets excellent access to people on all sides of the case, from lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense, to jurors who explain what they and their fellow jurors were thinking... James also captures many frank and emotional discussions between members of the family, who seem oblivious to the camera as they plot strategy or talk about how the case is affecting them and their community."
"True stories can be just as absorbing as narratives, and real people as memorable as characters, as Steve James' suspenseful courtroom documentary demonstrates... James gives us a rare glimpse into this somewhat unmelted immigrant community. The steely, whip-smart daughters turn out to be not so easy to push around, and their loving bickering banter with their parents is a delight."
"From the simple opening image of two people watching It’s a Wonderful Life, the film expands to illegal banking practices, a long and contentious trial, a look at the lives and history of an immigrant population, and a fully realized depiction of an American family. Through his strong journalistic sensibilities, genuine interest in people, and the clearest descriptions of banking practices I’ve seen in any film, James has created a well-rounded and fantastic documentary."
"Abacus: Small Enough To Jail is an exposé, thrilling and maddening as it unfolds, of another kind of injustice, in this case the (literal) trials and tribulations endured by a decent New York Chinese-American banking family at the hands of the New York County district attorney and his eager-beaver tiger of a litigating assistant. This look at the hell created by single-minded lawyers hungry for the kill in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis deserves a narrative feature remake; crises may come and go, but not this breed of lawyer."
"Mixes the true-crime drama of Serial and Making a Murderer with the financial rage of The Big Short... the prosecutorial detail, background work and touching interviews with the daughters of the bank’s founder paint an elaborate portrait of a community built on trust and personal relationships. That this is taken advantage of is unsurprising, but more heartbreaking thanks to James’s thorough exploration of the people affected by the case. With more triumphant closure than most true-crime stories."
"In this tightly-edited documentary directed by Steve James...we see up close the strains that the prosecution puts upon the family behind Abacus."
"Steve James may be incapable of directing a bad documentary...With Abacus: Small Enough to Jail James continues his record as one of America's most reliable non-fiction filmmakers."
"As he surfaces the systemic prejudice that underlies even this financial tale, James unearths yet another story about ethnicity, institutional arrogance, and an underdog's battle to overcome powerful forces woven deep into the fabric of American life."
"A thought provoking story about community, culture, family, honor, immigrants and relentless government prosecution that is truly riveting, frightening, emotional and jaw dropping."
"Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a harrowing legal and political thriller, but also the portrait of a truly community-oriented financial organ becoming a pawn to New Yorker power politics."
"Like so many of James' films, Abacus is, above all, an achievement of compassionate and conscientious observation that works best when casting an unblinking eye on the central family striving to uphold their legacy."
"Abacus reveals itself to be the most richly observed portrait of Chinese-American life since Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" and Wayne Wang's subsequent film adaptation, both trenchantly funny and warm in depicting the brilliant Sung clan in all their glory."
"Thomas Sung and his lawyer daughters are formidably honest and forthright in their attempts to save their family’s bank. It’s like a Chinese version of “The Big Short,” but this time the main players are empathetic and earnest as they are caught up in a situation created by some of their crooked employees."
"This film is a poignant intersection of the kind of systemic injustice that is birthed from government officials in bed with financial institutions."
"What exactly are the societal functions of financial institutions in today’s world? As the rich get richer and minorities continue to suffer the untold consequences of race in a landscape strewn with injustices, ABACUS: Small Enough To Jail tragically and urgently recalls those famous lines uttered between Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson back in 1974: “The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?”
"A touchingly human subplot to the financial crash, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is both an affirmation and an indictment of the American Dream."
"Mr. James’s previous works, particularly 'Hoop Dreams' and 'The Interrupters,' are rooted in a sense of community taking care of itself, so this is a snug fit. But he’s rarely tackled a subject as explicitly issue-based. There’s not much question who’s side he’s on, but he refuses to reduce the complexities of this case. It’s not an open-and-shut matter of unjust persecution: fraud was committed at this bank, on more than one occasion. The questions are: who knew, how high did it go, and (most importantly) why was this the only bank where New York prosecutors wanted to ask those questions?"
"With input from both sides of the courtroom, and insight from jury members, James lays out the absurdity of the claims against Abacus, but as per usual from the director, it’s not just the facts of the story he’s interested in, but the people behind it."
"Intimate, well-observed... the film is deeply moving and subtly shaming."
"It works purely as a fascinating procedural, but as always James has larger things on his mind. The viewer emerges with an answer to the legal issue, but with more questions than ever about what got us into the situation in the first place, and into how we reacted, and why."
"a gripping and sobering reminder of the damage caused by irresponsible lenders, the unfair legal burden on small financial institutions, and for me, most critically, the importance of credit unions, their mission and their role in their communities."
"Throughout his scrappy story, there’s also a winning sense of humor that shows the spunk of people not used to being pushed around."
"In telling the story of one family, he’s opened up a new understanding of the complexities of one immigrant community – and revealed how much further the American justice system needs to go in understanding its own people."
"Yes, believe it or not, Steve James has made a film about the housing crisis and financial meltdown that paints a bank and its founders as the little guy. Even that alone makes this a unique, worthwhile film. We often see portraits of financial institutions as the enemy, forgetting that many of the small ones have very human stories at their center. A bank is the David here, and an overzealous prosecutor—and all that he represents—is the Goliath... The Sungs are the most memorable people of TIFF 2016."
"A crackling family drama"
"Think George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in New York’s Chinatown."