Remember in the days, weeks and months after 9/11 how we Americans seemed to shy away from anything resembling a film about terrorism, war or global disasters?
It's hard to imagine the latest Roadside Attractions release Margin Call
finding much of an audience, but not because it's a bad film. In fact, it's a rather good film.
The problem with Margin Call
may very well be that we are, for the most part, still living within the world of Margin Call
and it's definitely not an entertaining world.
is a Wall Street thriller following the staff of a high-powered brokerage firm in the 24 hours leading up to the stock market collapse in 2008. The film somewhat resembles last year's The Company Men,
though that film seemed to find at least a modicum of hope amidst the soulless corporate world. In Margin Call,
written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the men (and one woman) are still shown from a human perspective but, unlike The Company Men,
their humanity can't mask the fact that they largely sold their souls long ago to achieve their successes.
To put it all in present-day lingo, the folks in Margin Call
are the 1%. Think about what that means.
The list goes on and on and on...
They are the 1%, yet they are different in how they've acquired their wealth, how they live with their wealth and how they treat others who do not have such wealth.
The beauty, nearly a master stroke of Chandor's cinematic debut, is that Margin Call
never lets us forget that these people involved in this scenario are human beings, most of whom have sold their soul, but still human beings.
The film starts out with a not uncommon scenario unfolding at a brokerage that is known merely as "The Firm" throughout the film. Profits are down and bodies must go. It's lay-off day for "The Firm" and only the best of the best will survive this round of lay-offs. Stanley Tucci's Eric Dale is one of the managers being let go. On the way out, Dale hands off one of his projects to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto, Star Trek),
his up-and-coming protege'. Reviewing the project later that evening, Peter discovers a horrifying figure that could very well collapse the uncollapsible company. Peter's discovery leads to a sort of chain reaction of the heavyweights within the food chain of "The Firm," with Peter contacting his friend (Penn Badgley) and his boss, Will (Paul Bettany) who quickly validate Peter's findings and climb higher up the chain with Will's Boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey), Sam's boss (Simon Baker) and, finally, the CEO (Jeremy Irons).
The next few hours contains a thrilling amount of procedural and psychological drama as these power brokers cook up a plan to deal with the financial crisis and, in turn, how this plan will be carried out. Rather than predictably demonizing these characters, Chandor does a rather stunning job of assigning them human traits within their inhumane world. Sure, there is greed in abundance that is present throughout. Yet, there is at times a sympathetic tone to their performances or, at the very least, a seductiveness to them that makes you wonder at what point in their careers that such money and power became a corrupting influence.
Quite a few films, including last year's prize-winning doc Inside Job,
have jumped head-first inside this world and, for the most part, few have experienced any degree of box-office success. Last year's The Company Men
was screened for critics entering awards season by a studio hopeful that it would latch on to the public consciousness, but the film ended up garnering little in the way of awards attention and an even smaller prize at the box-office. Margin Call,
with its top notch cast and timely subject matter, may have a slightly better chance of at least gaining some box-office traction.
While Zachary Quinto may be getting slightly more press right now for his coming out as gay, he should be getting the praise for his portrayal here as a young numbers-obsessed guy who figures out what's going on but has difficulty communicating it on the kindergarten level that seems to be required for all his peers with the exception of Sarah (an under-utilized Demi Moore), who seems to at least understand what he's saying. Jeremy Irons is slimy yet seductive as the fairly well dehumanized CEO, while Paul Bettany, the always dependable Stanley Tucci and Penn Badgley all do a nice here. Jeremy Irons gives his best performance in years, but the film is practically hijacked by Kevin Spacey, though, as a far more complex corporate dirtbag than he usually plays. Spacey's Sam isn't so much a dirtbag as he is a corporate player who finally gets a tremendous amount of insight into what he's playing and also realizes it may be too late to hold his hand. There are scenes with Spacey that are downright devastating in their depth of sensitivity, yet it's abundantly clear that Spacey, even if his essence is good, isn't about to come out of this sucker unscathed.
is occasionally too much of a talkie and, at times, too slick for its own good. However, the film's rock solid enough to entertain a more adult audience hungry for intelligent, thought-provoking cinema with a top of the line cast that finds every little nuance within their characters and plays it to the max.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic