Directed by J.C. Chandor. Starring Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore. (2011, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 28, 2011
Unlikely to be either the tea party or Occupy America's first pick for best film of the year, Margin Call is nevertheless a surprisingly adroit effort to A) explain the birth pains of our current financial woes, and B) show what it might have been like, in these first few hours within the confines of an early investment trading firm casualty.
Who cares about the suffering – existential, financial, or other – of those Bear Stearnsian bastards who blindly mismanaged our monies into this ever-expanding, nay, verily bottomless pit of debt? Well, not many civilians, I'd wager (if I had a spare nickel, that is), but the story is nonetheless rife with dramatic possibility. And with a cast as stellar as this, even the most banal striations of greed and fiscal amorality become readily evident. It's not that director Chandor, in this assured feature debut, is trying to compel us to feel anything more than the teensiest smidgen of sympathy for this skyscraping tower of hubristic scoundrels. It's more as though he's recast the entire situation – in less than a 24-hour period, no less – as something akin to Shakespearean tragedy minus any sort of redemptive possibility. That there's no love lost between the characters onscreen and the audience is a given. More accurately, Chandor seeks to humanize these titans of numerological hocus-pocus by portraying them not at their best but, indeed, at their worst.
Chief among them is a decidedly reptilian Irons as the CEO, who is helicoptered in during the middle of the night after a youngblood risk-assessment drone (Quinto, Star Trek's rebooted Spock) spots the metaphorical Wall Street iceberg within the files of just-fired financial analyst Eric Dale (Tucci). Much craven skullduggery abounds, particularly from upper-echelon risk officer Sarah Robertson (Moore) and another cynical shark with an eye on the soon-to-vanish prize (Bettany).
As Sam Rogers, the lone man of semi-conscience forced by circumstance to damn the torpedoes (and possibly his soul), Spacey brings with him decided echoes of Glengarry Glen Ross gone apocalyptic. It's a bravely nuanced performance for a character who is, ultimately, no better than the rest of these pecuniary freebooters. His bespoke suit is as besmirched with the green ichor of plundered Benjamins as anyone else’s, and yet you come away feeling a little sorry for the guy. Not very, but still, an impressive achievement given the nightmare narrative.