Margin Call (2011)

Director:  J.C. Chandor
Cast:  Zachary QuintoStanley TucciKevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore
Plot:  A drama that revolves around the key people at a investment bank over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis.

Genre:  Drama 
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.
Runtime:  107min
Rating:  M18 for language.

Margin Call is as much a dramatic-thriller as Drive (2011) is an explosive action flick. Be prepared, because if you think Margin Call is an out-and-out thriller about the financial crisis that enveloped the world in 2008, then you are mistaken. 

This J.C. Chandor film, his debut feature, is a slow but tightly-scripted picture that is completely dialogue-driven from start to end. Well, there are scenes of contemplative silence, and scenes with ambient sounds as the city switches off its lights for the night. But it is arguably the most wordy and dialogue-heavy film since The Social Network (2010).

What a long night it would be, as you will see in this smart but occasionally boring film. There is some problem with pacing. It moves at a stately pace, as if something big is going to happen. But that something never happens. 

There is no particular sequence or dramatic set piece that truly stands out on its own. There is an obvious lack of suspense, though this is due in part to the nature of the story that is told. But that is not an excuse for not making a more engaging film that is insightful and entertaining at the same time.

Most of the scenes are set within the confines of a boardroom or an office atop a tall building. The best part is that we have Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, and Stanly Tucci showing their dramatic chops in the same room. These are the key people who take up different high and low-ranking positions in an investment bank. 

Over the course of one night, they make a devastating discovery that we now know marks one of the earliest stages of the aforementioned financial crisis. The not so subtle reference of the film’s fictional investment firm to the Lehman Brothers is striking.

It is the performances in Margin Call that save it from being mediocre. The acting is consistently good, with Spacey and Irons the more notable performers. Once again, Spacey plays a high-ranking boss like he did for the quite effective comedy Horrible Bosses (2011). 

Here, he trades a cynical attitude for a more moralistic one. And it is his “duel” with the firm’s selfish director, played by Irons, that comes close to being, at the very least, memorable. I can’t think of any other reason to catch this film other than its A-list cast.

Director Chandor, who works in television, uses plenty of close-up shots of faces, sometimes not cutting away from them for quite some time, giving the film some form of introspection that provides a more human look at a decidedly man-made catastrophe. 

With the benefit of hindsight, Margin Call can be enlightening at times, and rewarding to the initiated, but folks who prefer more mainstream fare are encouraged to avoid this, though ironically, this is marketed as a mainstream thriller with a star-studded cast. 


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