A 2003 Oxygen (you know, the channel that brings the world "Bridezillas") network documentary, "Risk/Reward" has to be one of the best things the network has ever broadcast: it's a smart, informative and largely enjoyable documentary that focuses on the extremely fast-paced lives of a series of women who have broken into the boys' club of Wall Street and live 25 hour days in order to try and persue their career goals.
The women include research analyst Carol Warner Wilke, Money trader Kimberly Euston (whose team routinely trades billions of dollars a day), broker Louise Jones and Wharton Business School graduate Umber Ahmad. All four women operate in their own area of Wall Street and remain deeply competitive in more of a boy's club than I even realized - out of 1,366 members of the NYSE, only 44 are women. One of the earliest female members talks about using the men's bathroom until her supervisors finally put in a women's bathroom.
The doc splits its time between giving the viewer a tour of each of these very different women's lives trying to balance their work and personal lives, as well as a tour of the different fields that they work in within the greater whole of Wall Street. Broker Louise Jones leads us into the fascinating experience of being right in the middle of the floor on the NYSE, as we watch trades going through, deals being offered and a reaction to a Fed announcement.
As for the home lives of the women, the doc watches as three of the women deal with trying to balance their time at home with their time at work. Euston flies thousands upon thousands of miles across the globe each year in order to meet with clients, and we see her have to leave for a waiting limo while her husband and upset child stay behind at home. In another moment, Wilke's husband lightly pleads with her to try and scale back her work a bit to spend some time with the family, and she replies, "It's just not me." Jones is able to take time off with her partner to have a child, and even on her time off remains glued to CNBC, commenting that the details of a ticker that's scrolling by would have made a great trade.
One wonders if it's really possible to balance work and family life in a satisfying ratio when a Wall Street job seems to demand one's full attention - there's always a market going on somewhere in the globe, and there's the hook of trading. To some degree, one wonders if it's possible for any of these women to go "cold turkey" from the business, or if they would have to slowly withdraw. The horrific tragedy of 9/11 occurs (Jones watches as it happens a short distance from her window) and we watch as while some of the women reevaluate their priorities as a result, some do not.
"Risk/Reward" is an informative, interesting documentary but I think it just lacks a certain something. The frequent cutting between the stories of the women does tend to take away from the pacing of the film somewhat and the film never really finds strong conflicts - Umber's job search is a main conflict, but she never seems all that worried. The balance of family and work is the other conflict, but at least some of the women seem quite set in terms of how they envision their personal lives and work.
The other aspect of the film that I would have liked to have seen more of is how these women and others were able to break into Wall Street. We see how they're successful, but I'd have liked some additional insights (the beginning of the film briefly offers some insights from other women aside from the main subjects who work on Wall Street) into the whole situation of women on Wall Street in present day. Finally, the film appears to have been done with a low-grade camera, but I'm guessing a smaller camera likely was required to keep mobile on the streets of New York and to not get in the way on the floor of the NYSE.
Overall, I think "Risk/Reward" is an enjoyable film, but just needed to look even deeper into the subject. I'd like to have seen a fuller look at each of these women and a bit more on women in this field. The film is 88 minutes as is (possibly edited down to fit well on TV?), but really requires a length at least closer to two hours.
VIDEO: "Risk/Reward" is presented by Customflix in 1.33:1 full-frame. The presentation quality is just okay: sharpness and detail are often decent, with scenes looking a tad soft at best. Some minor artifacting is occasionally seen, as well as some slight shimmer. Colors appear subdued, but seem as if they are accurate to the original look of the film.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack offered clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Sadly, nothing.
Final Thoughts: "Risk/Reward" may lack a bit in drama/conflict and seems a little too short for its own good, but its look into four different careers on Wall Street remains interesting and enjoyable throughout. The DVD offers average image quality and audio, and no extras. Still, those considering a job on Wall Street or those who have an interest in Wall Street should consider taking a look at this doc.