Margin Call – Review
January 14, 2012 3 Comments
Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore.
This film could work beautifully as a perfect double bill with Charles Ferguson‘s documentary “Inside Job” from 2010, after which you might as well sink into the deepest depression just like our economy has been doing for the last few years…
“Margin Call” is inspired by the 2008 meltdown of the banking system, and although it is officially set in a fictional trading firm somewhere in Wall Street, you can’t help feeling the Lehman Brothers’s shadow lurking over the whole thing. I would not have been at all surprised to read a Merrill Lynch sign at any point during the film. Yes, this might very well be a work of fiction but by the end of it I challenge you not to think that this is exactly how it might have happened.
Despite what is potentially a fairly dry , cold and even complicated subject, “Margin Call” manages to make an absolutely gripping and tense thriller out of what’s essentially a group of people looking at computer screens and talking about things most of us, common mortals, don’t quite understand. Kudos to a tight direction and of course some great stellar cast!
However, unlike many movies where having many big A-listers takes something away from the actual story itself, because of their star persona, here it makes absolute sense to have so many of them, as each of them brings aura of gravitas which makes these characters and their story even more believable and more tense.
The movie confidently relies on the expressions on their faces to convey the power of the drama, more than any other tricky filmic devices or even action scenes.
Stanley Tucci shines as always and makes the most of his little screen time (essentially he only has 2 scenes, but boy he nails them both!) and Kevin Spacey shows us that he can do a lot more than just another caricature a-la-Swimming-with-Sharks. It’s great to see “The Mentalist” Simon Baker playing this kind of part and swearing like we’ve never seen him before and of course Jeremy Irons, who is clearly having a ball playing the ultimate boss of bosses who arrives with a helicopter and delivers the classic line “If you’re first out the door, that’s not called panicking”.
Each of them is a boss of a somebody else: and just when you think we’ve reached to top of the pyramid, a new one comes a long, richer and greedier, even more powerful and more ruthless. However what makes “Margin Call” so compelling is its refusal to play the expected clichés of the genre, to criticise or demonize the people who were behind the economic collapse or worse to attempt any kind of forced redemption at end. This isn’t another Oliver Stone “Wall Street” (a film which has actually aged quite badly, if you go back at look at it today with a more cynical eye). All these people working in the finance business are not just two-dimensional sharks and though the ending is exactly as we might expect (as it’s now written in the history books), the actual journey is not as obvious.
You really feel the tension on the faces of those people most of whom don’t even seem to understand much about how the economy works (that is quite an unexpectedly fun, if grotesque, twist on the subject) and never for a moment you doubt that it was all filmed in the darkest and earliest hours of the morning.
The script may sometimes be a bit cheap and too much in your face (the lines “please explain it to me in plain English” are quite welcome but they also feel a bit forced), however the film manages to create an atmosphere that it is so tense, so dense that it’s almost palpable. Once again a proof that you don’t need special effects, big twists and action scenes to create a powerful thriller.
This is what Wall Street 2 should have been.