Margin Call

Margin Call


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The financial crisis might look like a rich vein for filmmaking - but are audiences, many of whom have lost their homes or jobs or worse as a result of Wall Street profligacy, really ready to shed a tear for those poor traders who started it all? It's a tough question, but Margin Call - which picked up a distribution deal with Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions at Sundance - aims to find out. The presence of Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons in the cast, certainly piques interest - but as we all know thanks to the recent crash, just because your assets look valuable on paper doesn't mean they'll pay off at crunch time.

JC Chandor's debut movie shines a spotlight on the employees Wall Street investment firm as they are about to embark on a very bad day. Stanley Tucci's Eric takes the first kick in the teeth when he is unceremoniously kicked out of the firm after years in the business, told to clear his desk and escorted from the building as his phone is shut off. Despite this positively SWAT-like security, this is Movie Land, so he still manages to find time to hand a memory stick to his junior colleague Peter (Zachary Quinto), containing a worrying project he was working on with the instruction to "be careful".

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With Eric out of the door, Peter decides to take a look at those files and since he is a rocket scientist - yes, really - it doesn't take him long to realise the system his company is operating does not stack up. In fact, the figures show that the company's assets could well be toxic enough to bring the whole place down. With this opening shot fired, Chandor's film tracks the bullet as it ricochets up through the company ranks, first drawing in Peter's immediate boss British spendthrift broker Will (Paul Bettany) and long-standing firm member Sam (Kevin Spacey) before finally reaching director John (Jeremy Irons) and his risk management head Sarah (Demi Moore). Once the news has broken, they form a war room committee... but should they save the company whatever the cost to the rest of Wall Street and beyond?

There is a certain tension to be had from the confined spaces of an office building and Chandor shows a considerable amount of talent in terms of framing, with cinematographer Frank DeMarco using the bleakness of the office environment to good effect. Chandor should also be praised for trying to break away from what could have been a simple one-room setting, by shooting some action on the roof and elsewhere, although initial attempts to track down Eric feel like little more than a macguffin so that the camera can leave the building than anything that usefully furthers the plot.

While the film always looks good, the script has less shine. This would, in any circumstances, be an exposition-heavy endeavour, since the steps leading to the company problems need to be explained. But there is a lack of trust in the audience to grasp this information at the first time of asking. Either that or they were desperate to pad the runtime. The result of this is that as each character on screen is told about the company's impending doom, the steps leading to it are explained in full once again - with fellow characters going so far as to suggest it must be in "plain English". The problem with this is two-fold, firstly, despite the whole shebang being repeated at least three times by my count it is still about as clear as an MP's expenses claim, while the constant repetition badly slows down the film's pace. Attempts to shore up the 'humanity' of Sam's character, through sickness of his family dog also feel forced initially and reach levels of almost laughable contrivance by the end of the film.

Chandor makes good use of his acting assets and there's no doubt that he knows how to direct, but ultimately, the dullness of the script is just a little too toxic.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2011
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A day in the life of a investment firm's meltdown.
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Director: JC Chandor

Writer: JC Chandor

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi, Grace Gummer, Ashley Williams, Susan Blackwell, Al Sapienza, Maria Dizzia

Year: 2011

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2011

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