Movie review: Margin Call
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Opens locally Friday, October 28th, 2011
Also available on Video On-Demand
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Written & Directed by J.C. Chandor (feature film debut)
In theory, there is no denying that “Margin Call” is a timely film…it is the perfect example of a film being released exactly at an opportune moment, where Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are growing across the nation and the big banks are finally being spotlighted. Featuring an all-star cast, it dramatizes a key 24-hour stretch of the 2008 financial crisis that brought Wall Street, and the U.S. economy, to its knees.
And although the movie tries to show many sides to the financial collapse, it ends up instead as a sympathetic vehicle that defends the very bastards that it tries to showcase, and how not everybody in the financial sector is a bad person with evil intentions to screw us. The average Joe already knows this…we just don’t need to be reminded of this when we are being sucked dry, foreclosing on our houses, and losing all of our savings.
The story is set in a fictional bank, but may as well be Goldman Sachs or one of the other investment banks. Zachary Quinto is a young genius who unlocks a key mathematical algorithm that foreshadows the pending collapse of the market and downfall of the firm. Through one layer of red tape at a time, this perilous warning works its way all the way up to the top, to the cold and ruthless CEO played by Jeremy Irons.
The film wants to be a thriller, and the firm’s course of action must be decided by the next morning or the world will seemingly end. The actual math is so complicated, that many characters are heard asking Quinto’s character to “speak in plain English,” or “talk to me like you would talk to a golden retriever.” This of course means please explain it to us, the uneducated, sitting in the audience.
Stanley Tucci is a senior banker, who in the onset of the film is laid off, but holds a key piece of information making him relevant later. Demi Moore and Paul Bettany play middle and upper management, and all of the characters stay cooped up in the confines of their firm, scurrying like rats from meeting to meeting as they attempt to deal with the crisis at hand. Most of the film is explanation after explanation, as we try sorting through all of the complicated information along with the characters on screen.
The result is less thriller, and more of a bore.
Luckily, there is Kevin Spacey, who gives a very good performance who is a boss in the firm. He is one of only a few characters (along with Stanley Tucci’s) who goes through human emotion, and has any level of depth. When we first see Spacey, he has a tear in his eye, and we think he is sad over having just had a third of his workers laid off. Nope, he just found out his dog has a terminal disease…typical uncaring businessman, right? Worried about his dog and not people. As we move through the movie though, something fascinating happens…through Spacey’s interactions with the others of his firm, we learn that there is no care shown for people, it’s all about the numbers. By the film’s end, we learn that his dog may have been his only real connection, and this plot-thread gives a much needed touch of humanity, underscoring the ruthless dealings of the other bankers.
Without Spacey’s performance, “Margin Call” would border on unwatchable. But because of him, it may be worth a look. He shines amongst an A-list ensemble that is unfortunately held back by the dry content of the storyline. We learn nothing that we didn’t already know about the financial crisis, portrayed much more effectively in movies like the recent HBO film, “Too Big To Fail.”
Worse than that, “Margin Call” only seems to muster sympathy for an industry that has infuriated millions of people. Does it make you feel any better, after losing your job or foreclosing on your home, to know that not all bankers are bad, and that they may have struggled with some of their decisions?
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