Monday, February 13, 2012

Margin Call (2011)

Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany

The financial crisis of 2008 (to present) is a topic that has been explored ad nauseam in countless films, both feature and documentary, books and newspaper and magazine articles, so finding a twist to make “your” film stand out among the rest is imperative. With Margin Call, first-time writer-director J.C. Chandor successfully pulls this off by offering a quiet, yet powerful imagining of the crisis at its incubation and inception stages.

Margin Call features a great cast of character actors including Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons, all portraying employees at an investment bank. The 24-hour period covered in the film begins with sweeping layoffs, including Eric Dale (Tucci), a middle manager who is on the verge of making a devastating discovery about the company’s finances. As he leaves, he hands the information over to Peter Sullivan (Quinto), one of his former underlings, with the warning, “Be careful.” After Sullivan analyzes the file and completes the puzzle, his discoveries not only prompt the involvement of every key player at the firm all the way up to CEO John Tuld (Irons), but set into motion the financial crisis that our world’s economy is still trying to recover from.

Margin Call is about as straight-forward a film can be without being a documentary, and it strongly reflects Chandor’s previous work in that genre. What was impressive about the film was that it breathed new life into a stale topic, and did it quietly and without hyperbole. The cast of the film give understated performances despite the highly charged theme, which was impressive. The film could have been played more theatrically, like Glengarry Glen Ross, with a bunch of stressed out people yelling at each other, but it went in the opposite direction, where they were struggling with trying to find a way out, feeling defeated and even wondering how their actions that very evening and day will impact the average man on the street. Margin Call doesn’t kid anyone though; there are no heroes here, merely “survivors” and sacrificial lambs.

There’s nothing flashy about Margin Call, and frankly, there will be some people who will probably be bored with it because there isn’t a lot of action in it. But it is a cerebral and daring presentation of facts that have already been revealed, simply told in an interesting enough way to warrant viewing; notable since this topic has been so pervasive in our lives for more years than I care to recall.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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