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Margin Call - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Margin Call
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

It's too bad people don't go to see movies that are about how shitty things are, because Margin Call is absolutely worth seeing. It takes a global crisis and narrows it down to an expertly showcased, small ensemble cast of characters who suddenly realize they've painted themselves into a corner -- and are thus forced to change the world.

Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, but in the context of this film, not only does it make sense, but it's riveting, human drama. Writer-director J.C. Chandor, jaw-dropping in his talent and skill given this is his first feature film, takes what seems like a convoluted concept -- the economic crash of 2008 -- and makes it acutely personal. And although he never truly takes sides, he does an impressive job of presenting the perspective of the Wall Street trader. Never before have I actually understood where they might be coming from, and how they might justify their actions, and in the simplest of really quite understandable terms.

Indeed, even after seeing the movie, I couldn't possibly explain what the hell a "margin call" actually is. Characters talk here and there about the specifics of how their jobs work, and to me they are fleeting moments of Greek. But the basic tenets of the story always stay intact, crystal clear from minute one: this New York City firm, with over a trillion dollars in assets, has been taking risks so dangerous that drastic measures must be taken.

This discovery occurs after we see the first round of layoffs, which is how the movie begins. Eric Dale (an impeccable Stanley Tucci), a relatively high-level executive, is one surprising casualty. He was in the middle of something, but due to the sensitive nature of his work, he's escorted out of the building and asked to clean out his desk immediately. The company shuts off his phone before he's even out on the sidewalk. At the last minute, he hands a flash drive to Peter (Zachary Quinto, playing the deer-in-the-headlights look of a guy getting whisked up the ladder almost against his will to full effect). He tells him he was working on something and wants him to take a look at it. "Be careful," he says.

Peter stays late at work and plugs in the drive. We get a montage of him doing math equations by hand, none of which can we see clearly. All we need to know is that he discovers something big -- and it starts a chain reaction that, within hours, brings in his new boss, Will (Paul Bettany); Will's boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey, excellent as always); Eric Dale's former boss, Sarah (Demi Moore); Sarah's apparent rival, Jared (Simon Baker); and soon enough, the CEO himself, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). By the very early hours of the morning, all of the above are sitting at a conference table, John quickly cutting through all the minutiae to ask Peter to explain the problem "like you would to a small child, or a Golden Retriever."

Peter does just that, laying out the problem both so John can quickly understand and to present it in the simplest terms to us as an audience. This is where I find the one sticking point with Margin Call, which still isn't a big deal: it takes several opportunities for expository dialogue that transparently oversimplifies the issues at hand, clearly in an effort to keep complicated money-speak from derailing the locomotive speed of the plot. It comes close to feeling condescending, although it never blatantly crosses the line.

The bottom line, though, is that Wall Street is easily demonized these days, and if nothing else, Margin Call offers some perspective in a time when the likes of Occupy Wall Street encourages us all -- with some justification, it must be said -- to think of these people as our enemies outright. One of the most amazing things about this movie is how its deceptive simplicity underscores the fact that the issues are a little more complicated than that: nothing is black and white.

Still, even though Margin Call takes place over the course of only a couple of days in 2008, its release now could not possibly be more timely. Three years hence isn't all that dated when you consider that this is essentially the story of where the mess we're currently in started. And in all likelihood, plenty of those people who are so exasperated with the current state of economic affairs probably saw the trailer to this and thought, Why would I want to see a movie about these assholes? Well, there are multiple reasons: not only is it surprisingly provocative and provides ample food for thought, it's also riveting, solid entertainment, with performances across the board just as good as in any other movie you'll see this year.

This is a story about people much more than it is about money -- and these people come across as flawed, but human, in a deeply affecting way. It makes you wonder, truly, what you would do in their position. And J.C. Chandor somehow manages to highlight the pitfalls of moralizing in this world without ever getting preachy about it. Even the presence of Demi Moore as a female high executive has its own socio-political subtext, but subtly conveyed. This is a movie with so much to chew on, it's a genuinely delightful surprise, like when you take a bit of one of your favorite foods without knowing it's been seasoned stupendously. It sticks with you.

Kevin Spacey struggles to keep it together in MARGIN CALL.

Overall: A-
2 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 3rd, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not 2008, 2006

The film never state what year this took place, and the firm is one that came out ahead in 2008 crash. From this, we can deduced that the firm depicted is NOT Lehman, but Goldman Sachs, and the year is 2006, when Goldman unload majority of their Mortgage Backed Security. As the CEO in this film said, Be First, Be Smartest or Cheat. Goldman was the first to realize what's happening to the CDO market and got themselves out.
cinema_holic From: cinema_holic Date: November 3rd, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not 2008, 2006

Eric Dale says in his speech about the bridge he built in 1986 that it was "22 years ago." That makes it 2008.
2 comments or Leave a comment