The Bet is beautifully shot with beautiful people in beautiful parts of Sydney. The film exudes a warm glow not usually associated with the corporate world of high finance and structured deals. Yet the quality of the story struggles to match that of the look, and ultimately places too much pressure on young actor Matthew Newton who is the centerpiece of the film.
Newton plays Will, a young stockbroker from humble origins who is very confident in his ability to play the market. More as a way of showing off than a real need, he makes a fifty thousand dollar bet with suave and slightly sneering banker friend Angus (Aden Young) who comes from a wealthy and very well connected family. Whoever makes the most money in ninety days takes all. A mutual friend and colleague, Benno (Tim Richards) agrees to keep the score. Watching from the sidelines are girlfriends Tory (Sybilla Bud) who has just started a relationship with Will, and Lila (Peta Sergeant) who’s dating Angus. The days start to countdown, and we follow Will as he rides the roller coaster of the financial market, searching for the right stock and the right time to buy and sell. What starts as a boy’s game gets deadly serious when Will agrees to double the bet, putting everything he has at risk.
Newton clearly has talent, but of the cocky, cheeky and extraverted kind. To make Will a character we – and more particularly Tory – really care about we need more intensity, darkness and depth. Writer and producer Caroline Gerard (who’s a high-flying lawyer herself) adds a sub-plot between Will and his father in an attempt ground Will’s character but it backfires badly – proving lame and unconvincing. The tale is ultimately a tragedy about a man in a treacherous bind, made of his own doing, one that causes him to throw himself time and time again into the lion’s den. Newton isn’t ready to take us on a journey of such emotional complexity, and Director Mark Lee (best known for his role in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli) lets Newton come out smiling every time rather than slowly revealing shadows of insight and doubt. Aden Young is excellent as Will’s haughty and powerful foe and Sybilla Bud alluring as his muse, but the script is short on real story and offers few surprises and too many contrivances in its second half. Hugh Miller’s cinematography is unquestionably the highlight.