Margin Call – Review

Margin Call (2011) 

Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Zachary QuintoStanley TucciKevin SpaceyPaul BettanyJeremy IronsSimon BakerDemi 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 StoneWall 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.

7.5/10

Inside Job – Review

INSIDE JOB (2010) 

Directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Matt Damon.

When reviewing a documentary like this I think it’s fair to make a distinction between the subject matter of the documentary and the actual merits of the film-making itself.

On the subject matter front, “Inside Job” surely deserves all the awards it is receiving (it recently won the Oscar for best documentary too). The film sets to explain the reasons (or arguably, some of the reasons) behind the financial crisis that’s hit the whole world. How did we end up where we are and whose to blame?

It could be a fairly dry and dull subject , and a rather complicated one too, but Inside Job, for most of it, manages to keep it simple and gripping at the same time without dumbing it down too much. Inevitably it ends up focusing more one one side of the argument (the  bankers) as opposed to following the more controversial route (going against the politicians. Though they do get mentioned, the film prefers not to be so hard on them as it is on those corporate people, obviously a much easier target).

And since we are all on the same boat in this never-ending financial crisis and we are, forgive me the term, rather pissed off at the way the whole thing has been carried out and handled, we are perfectly happy to see it all laid out the way it is and eventually everyone will come out it feeling even more angry and frustrated than they were before.

On that respect the film obviously really works.

As a piece of film, “Inside Job” is less interesting.

Its pace is very uneven: sometimes a bit too fast when it should be slow and a bit slow when you just want it to get on with it, for example there are way too many beginnings (one of them is probably there just because it plants the seeds for one of the best jokes  of film later on about the instability of Iceland). Not everything hits home as it probably should and not everything is as clear as it should be. After a while one million begins to sound a lot like 10 millions or 100 millions or even a billion… it’s just a whole lot of money which we’ll never see anyway… It gets slightly repetitive.

In most sequences the documentary unravels like a series lectures of economy: it is mainly voice over driven (read by Matt Damon who seems to be everywhere these days), visualized by unimaginative graphics and straight forward unremarkable archive footage. The real skill here seems to be more in the writing than the actual film-making. That’s by no means a criticism. This isn’t a film by Micheal Moore and, for most of its length, it doesn’t even try to be one: there are no stunts, and, on the surface, no tricks either.

And yet, everyone who has seen this film will most likely remember the last third, which is probably the closest thing to something that Michael Moore would do, and to me, the most interesting part. It is the moment the film-makers turn against their contributors: economists, journalists and professors, who are just as guilty as everyone else.

Watching them squirm in their seats having to defend  themselves when they thought they were just there to give us a history lesson is the most pleasurable part of the film.

And because we all want to point fingers and blame everyone for their greedy needs, we probably fail to notice the slightly biased use of the editing: I’m thinking of all those moments when questions are asked off-camera just so that we can catch the surprised faces of the people who are being interviews, and then the films cuts away to the next sequence, without giving them really the chance to answer.

We really don’t mind though: we hate those people anyway and as long as they look stupid and guilty we are happy with it.

In the end, it’s great to see a documentary like this, on a subject like the big economic crisis, getting all the awards it’s getting and though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a masterpiece, I hope it does mean we are ready to chance the way people regulate our economy…

7/10

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