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Laramie Movie Scope: Dumb Money

Small investors vs The System

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 6, 2023 – This movie is a dramatization of an actual investor's revolt against the destructive forces of hedge funds, specifically hedge fund investors investing in the failure of retail game company GameStop in 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, a small time retail investor Keith Patrick Gill (played by Paul Dano of “The Batman”) notices that, according to Wikipedia the “short interest well exceeded the float” on GameStop stock, and he put his life savings, over $50,000, into GameStop stock. “Short interest,” by the way is an indication that certain investors were shorting GameStop stock.

What does this mean? It's complicated, but suffice it to say that hedge funds, and other big investors, who were shorting the stock were betting that GameStop, in financial trouble at the time, would go bankrupt. Gill, on the other hand, by investing in the stock, was betting that GameStop would succeed. The lower GameStop's stock price went, the more money the hedge funds would make on their “shorting” bets. The higher the stock price went, the more money Gill would make on his GameStop stock purchases.

Gill began to spread the word on the internet about his belief that GameStop was a good buy. He argued that there was still strong interest in physical game software media, as opposed to game software downloads online. Gill's friends advised him this was like betting on Blockbuster to stay afloat despite competition from Netflix, but he remained adamant that the stock was undervalued.

Gill's posts in an investing subreddit and his videos on YouTube (under the name Roaring Kitty) seemed to be gaining traction with other retail investors. This, along with the complex nature of shorting stock, caused the stock price to rapidly increase.

Hedge fund manager Gabe Plotkin (played by Seth Rogen of “The Fabelmans”) was starting to get worried, but he, and other big investors were confident that the small investors would sell their GameStop stock, taking their profits while they can, and get out while the getting is good. With the sell off, the stock would fall, and the hedge funds could still make money. Urged on by Gill and others, however, the GameStop investor army held its ground.

What is going on here? According to the movie, a lot of small investors ignored the dangers and held onto their GameStop shares did so, in part, because they very angry at the past practices of hedge funds and other private equity firms. These firms bought brick and mortar retail firms, extracted property value from the companies, squeezed them dry and put them into debt, bankrupting them and putting them out of business. One such ruined company mentioned in the movie is one-time retail giant ShopKo.

The same kinds of investment practices have put thousands of local newspapers out of business all across the country, or hollowed them out, making them “ghost papers.” The decline of newspapers is making the many in the country ill-informed, and is causing divisiveness and irreparable harm. This hits home for me, as a longtime small town newspaper reporter. So forgive me for taking Gill's side in the GameStop stock war.

The hedge funds and the other big investors were losing to the little guys, but they were not going down without a fight. They used their influence to drive down GameStop stock in an effort to spook GameStop investors into selling their stock. This epic war made the stock price fluctuate wildly. The stock price ware made the national news and resulted in Congressional hearings and investigations by stock trading regulators. Some of the GameStop stock war's outcomes are quite startling, as seen in this movie.

The movie makes all this technical stuff personal by showing how it all affected several small traders, along with Gill and his family, including Gill's wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley of “The Mauritanian”) his brother, Kevin (Pete Davidson of “The Suicide Squad”) and his father, Steve (Clancy Brown of “John Wick: Chapter 4”).

The acting in this film is strong and effective. The characters are interesting and the story is compelling. It is funny and dramatic, and very entertaining. This film rates a B.

A few additional notes: One of the early investors in GameStop, a year before Gill got into it, was Michael Burry of Scion Asset Management. Burry, like Gill, believed the company was undervalued. Burry became famous after being depicted by Christian Bale in the movie “The Big Short” (2015).

Executive producers of “Dumb Money” include Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who became famous for being founders of an internet service called HarvardConnection, that eventually became Facebook. The Winklevoss twins, played by Armie Hammer, were featured in the movie “The Social Network.” They were also Olympic athletes. Currently they own Winklevoss Capital Management, providing seed money for startups, and Gemini, a digital currency exchange.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2023 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]