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.


Horrible Bosses – Review

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Directed by Seth Gordon. With Jason Bateman, P.J. Byrne, Steve Wiebe ,Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Jason Sudeikis, Donald Sutherland.

This is one of those comedies that should have been a lot funnier than in fact it was. For some reason the makers behind “Horrible Bosses” seem to assume that just having over-the-top profanity and crass dialogue (especially when it’s from somebody we are not used to hear swearing so much) is enough to make your audience laugh: this might have work (arguably) 18 years ago with a film like Clerks, but time have certainly moved on and today comedies need more than just a few f**ks and c**ks jokes (even the first Hangover, which this film clearly is trying to emulate, had a lot more twists and surprises in its plot and relied on actual characters as opposed to just having them swearing).

I want to stress, I’m certainly not a puritan. I do swear too, more often than I probably should, and I do believe that some big, (sometimes even inventive) profanity, used at the right moment in a film, can be very effective and quite funny too. But when a film that calls itself a comedy goes on over 10 minutes without a single good laugh and then tries to compensate its lack of good jokes by simply adding gratuitous vulgarity, then you know there’s something wrong with it and it all just feels like a rather pathetic affair.

I am actually a little annoyed with”Horrible Bosses”. Potentially it had a lot going for it: an interesting premise which we can all sympathise with (At some point or another we all had a horrible boss who we just couldn’t stand), an impressive cast packed with big names and one of the most inspired advertising campaign of the year. Unfortunately despite all these promises, the actual pay off is actually rather disappointing and in the end the film fails strike a chord and registers just around the average line.

For a start the premise is completely wasted by having these bosses being so over-the-top that in the end they just become absurd two-dimensional caricatures. Sadly this isn’t “the office” (UK or US version): there’s no subtlety or wit, nor those beautifully observed characters or situations we can all relate to. The gags and twists (very spare in the first half) might be fun to describe to a friend but they are certainly not as funny when they are translated up the screen.

The theatre I went to see this was pretty full and the silence during most of the jokes (as I said, especially in the first hour) was quite deafening: it almost made me feel a bit embarrassed for the film itself…

Even its potentially stellar cast is wasted: Kevin Spacey plays exactly the same character he did in Swimming with Sharks and yet with less than 1/10 of screen time, this time he only manages make a caricature out of it. Same goes for Jennifer Anniston who seem to be trying so hard to make her character the complete opposite of her girl-next-door screen persona we are so used to see, that she’s forgotten to make her believable too. She’s really not scary at all! Colin Farrell is basically invisible, not just because the make-up makes him look like a different person, but because he’s probably got about 5 minutes. Surely he must have had a lot of fun in making such an over the top character, sadly none of that fun comes across. Jamie Foxx makes the most of his brief appearance as the ‘murder consultant’ named Motherfucker Jones (once again, a joke which might have been funny and yet is stretched beyond anyone’s patience, including the terribly un-funny reason behind the name), but he just adds very little to the film.

“Horrible Bosses” is really about the trio of ‘hangover-style’ ‘type-of-friends’, which unfortunately are a lot less interesting and just as under-developed than their bosses. Furthermore director Seth Gordon seems unable to draw from the potentially great chemistry of his three main actors (we only get a glimpse of how much funnier it could all have been if they had been allowed more room for improvisation, in the obligatory outtakes reel during the end credits).

Jason Bateman is the best thing in it, with his trademark deadpan humour and his usual underplayed charm, which unfortunately can’t save him from another under-written role (Obviously the writer seem to prefer spending more time setting up the ultra-complicated plot, than making us care about their characters).
In the end neither Batman or his co-stars, nor the admiringly few good jokes in the second half of the film can save “horrible bosses”. It’s just not funny enough!
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