Margin Call (review)

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Margin Call yellow light Kevin Spacey

I’m “biast” (pro): love the fantastic cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s an invented narrative, this tale of that moment in 2008 when it began to dawn on the masters of the universe that the shit was about to hit the fan, but it could well be more true than fact in the way that fiction sometimes is. A junior risk analyst (Zachary Quinto: What’s Your Number?) at an unnamed prestigious brokerage in New York discovers that, basically, the global financial circle jerk is about to come to an end, and his company is going to be the one left holding its dick– er, an enormous pile of suddenly worthless paper. What’s worse, this comes immediately upon the heels of the layoff bloodbath that got rid of the senior risk analyst (Stanley Tucci: The Hunger Games) who had, unbeknownst to anyone else, started the time-to-panic ball rolling. Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s debut feature — which was nominated for Best Screenplay at last year’s Oscars — takes place over the one night of corporate terror during which a clusterfuck of suits snipe at one another and jockey for not-gonna-be-the-scapegoat position as they make the determination that the company must unload its bad investments quickly first thing in the morning, and before their colleagues at other brokerages realize how worthless the paper is. Wily humor and sly observations about the lives of these high rollers are the highlights: in one scene, Paul Bettany’s (The Tourist) trader casually explains how he spends his annual $2.5 million salary. It’s when those give way to issues of morality that the film disappoints, just a little: Tucci’s lovely speech about the useful career he once had (before he worked on Wall Street) is not evenly matched by the moments on the flip side, as when Jeremy Irons’ (Eragon) company head dismisses the looming collapse his people are kicking off with “It’s just money. It’s made up.” The arrogance of these people and the nonchalance with which they wield their mighty power is underplayed, and so the drama feels oddly underpowered, particularly for the magnitude of the events depicted. Still, every single member of the cast — which also features Simon Baker (The Killer Inside Me), Demi Moore (Mr. Brooks), and Kevin Spacey (The Men Who Stare at Goats) in one of his great performances – is glorious. Ironically, it’s their collective understatement that makes it all work as well as it does. The script, however, that Oscar nod notwithstanding, could use some oomph.

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