Review: Margin Call
PLOT: On the eve of the 2008 stock market collapse, the key employees of a large investment bank on the brink of a financial calamity strategise in an effort to save their firm.
REVIEW: Kevin Spacey. Stanley Tucci. Paul Bettany. Jeremy Irons. Demi Moore. Zachary Quinto. Now, is that a cast or is that a cast? Considering the talent involved, no other film went into the Sundance Film Festival with the kind of hype that MARGIN CALL had.
For me, MARGIN CALL is the film WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS should have been. It began life as a 'Black-List' spec script, written by newcomer J.C Chandor, that impressed investors enough that not only was the film turned into a star-studded endeavor, but Chandor was even allowed to make this his directorial debut. The 2008 market collapse, paired with the high-profile cast is probably quite daunting for a first time filmmaker, but looking at the polished final product, you'd think Chandor had been directing for decades.
It's a smart, user friendly take on the market crash. I'm no economist, and a lot of financial double talk doesn't do anything but confuse me. Luckily, that's a trait I have in common with many of the major characters in this film, which I suppose is a bit terrifying, as this is a fictionalized account of real events. It's this lack of understanding that's led to the financially calamitous situation we've all been plunged into the last couple of years. One of the most memorable scenes in the film has Jeremy Irons, who heads the Lehman Brothers-like company profiled in this film, order an underling to explain the impending disaster the way he would talk to a child.
Unlike the last WALL STREET, there's no romantic subplot or family drama to distract from what's really interesting, which is the financial collapse. It's lean, mean and focused, and walking out of the film, I felt like I had a better understanding of what really happened back in 2007-2008 on Wall Street.
Considering the cast, I suppose it's no shock for me to reveal that MARGIN CALL is an exceedingly well acted film. The cast is headed by Zachary Quinto, who plays a young risk analyst, who discovers error in stock forecasting formulae that's about to plunge the economy into a precarious situation. This is a strong part for Quinto, but he can't help but be dominated by Paul Bettany, who plays his playboy boss. Bettany's amazing here as the kind of boss who likes big money, girls and excitement, and has to be roused out of a strip club so that he can be informed of the hell his company's about to plunge into.
As HIS boss, we get Kevin Spacey, as one of the more conscientious people in the film. Once he realizes what's about to go down, he tries to convince his own superior, played by Jeremy Irons, to do the right thing, and not sell off worthless stock. However, it's his eventual cowardice, and decision to tow the company line that makes him an accomplice in what turns out to be a major financial crime, and it's an interestingly layered performance. Spacey's better here than he's been in years.
Another scene-stealer has to be Stanley Tucci, who I suppose, could be called one of the film's few good-guys. When he tries to warn the company of the direction there heading in, he's ignored, and the first scene of the film shows him being fired, with the company taking draconian efforts to keep him from opening his mouth. Tucci's great as always, and once again, he shows what a versatile performer he consistently proves himslef to be.
Probably my only problem with MARGIN CALL is that it's TOO star-studded, and tiny, nearly useless roles for Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Mary McDonnell seem like they were just thrown in to get a few extra names on the poster. They're all good, but the roles feel minor, and probably didn't need to be filled by such big names.
While it's certainly no popcorn film, or the thriller I half-expect the studios to sell this as, MARGIN CALL is still a thought-provoking drama, that brings to mind the gritty type of film making we used to get in the seventies. If WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS didn't quite do it for you, give MARGIN CALL a try. You won't be sorry.