FILM REVIEW: Margin Call
- November 10, 2011 9:02 AM |
- By Eli Glasner
Margin Call, a breathtaking debut film from J.C. Chandor, captures 24 hours in the life of an investment firm teetering on the edge of the economic abyss of 2008. The first sign of trouble is the arrival of an army of power-suited transition specialists. A wave of layoffs have hit the trading floor and Stanley Tucci plays Eric, a risk specialist with a sage, salt-and-pepper scruff who suddenly finds himself fitting his life's work into a brown banker's box. Tucci's expression says it all as a cheerful pamphlet titled "Looking ahead" is pushed across the table.
But Tucci's personal crisis is just a ripple compared to the tsunami about to swamp the street. On his way out the door he hands a memory stick to Peter, a subordinate analyst who stays late to look at the data. Before the elevators doors close, Eric warns "Be careful". That's because the equations written on the flash drive suggest the Jenga-like tower of toxic trades the firm is built upon is about to fall.
Peter (Zachary Quinto) rings the alarm and drags his buddy and his boss (Paul Bettany) back to the office in the middle of the night. Bettany, a nicotine-gum chewing Wall St. warrior, takes one look at the looming minus signs and calls Sam, the executive manager of the trading floor played by Kevin Spacey.
Kevin Spacey finds his backbone when the real implications of the crash sink in. (Associated Press)
As the implications of the equations sink in, a board meeting is hastily called. As the action moves up to the executive floor, the cast of characters grows: Simon Baker as Sam's boss Jared; Demi Moore as the head of risk analysis; and finally Jeremy Irons as the real money and owner of the firm, John Tuld.
Until now, the documentary Inside Job was the only film that addressed the current chaos. (Shia LaBeouf bike-racing billionaires in Wall Street 2 doesn't count.) Now as dominos threaten to begin toppling again in Europe, Margin Call traces all the financial sturm und drang back to one firm that started it all.
Sure, it's a fantasy. Bay Street types may see it as simplistic. But at the same time it's incredibly satisfying. This is what we want from our drama. A sprinkling of insight. A cast of characters, good knights and evil schemers, trapped in the glass cage throwing knives at each other.
Margin Call boasts a wealth of fine players. The furious eyebrows of Zachary Quinto. The stiff-jawed cynicism of Paul Bettany. Simon Baker as the immaculate (and Teflon-coated) exec. But most remarkably, Margin Call signals the re-emergence of Kevin Spacey. In the beginning, director J.C. Chandor plays him as the patsy, showing the exec mooning over his sick dog while pink slips rain. But like Eric, he's tired. When Tuld decides to sell the worthless mortgage bundles, Sam finds his backbone. He realizes they are pissing in their own pool. Sam's foot soldiers, the traders that will work the phones to unload this time bomb, are sacrificing their careers for the firm. Forced to justify the move, Tuld hides behind the great god of capitalism, saying "We are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price."
Sam's final speech to the troops is blunt, brutal and surprisingly affectionate. While pushing a poison pill, Spacey finds a way to do it with integrity. From Glengarry Glenn Ross to Casino Jack, we've grown used to seeing Spacey as the alpha male of authority, the fast-talking snake charmer. Perhaps it's that history that gives this performance its power. Slumped in his chair, staring out at Manhattan's concrete canyon, he appears to be wondering when the equations stopped adding up.
RATING: Four Nicorette gums out of five.
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