Thursday, July 5, 2012

Margin Call

Directed by J. C. Chandor.
2011. Rated R, 107 minutes.
Kevin Spacey
Zachary Quinto
Simon Baker
Paul Bettany
Demi Moore
Jeremy Irons
Stanley Tucci
Penn Badgley
Aasif Mandvi
Mary McDonnell
Ashley Williams

It’s already a tough time at NBS, one of America’s largest companies. They’re laying off a sizable chunk of the risk management department at their Wall Street office. This includes department head Eric Dale (Tucci). Just to let him know they’re not screwing around, his company cell phone is shut off as he is being escorted from the building. On his out, he hands a flash drive to Peter Sullivan (Quinto), one of the young guys lucky enough to survive. It contains a project Dale was working on. He urges Peter to take a look at it and “be careful.” Talk about ominous. Peter does, finishes it up and voila! He figures out that the company’s business module is broken beyond repair and they’re going to go belly up any day now. Meetings with people all the way up the chain of command ensue.

Yes, I said meetings ensue. However, don’t get these confused with the nod inducing type you fight through at your job by taking coffee intravenously. These meetings have the gravity of deciding how to react to a world altering event. These people are literally trying to figure out whether or not a company whose collapse will have far reaching consequences can survive the next day. If so, how? How many of their own will have to be sacrificed? Is their best play an unscrupulous one? And on, and on. The weight of the world is truly on their shoulders. The tension between them is almost unbearable. Almost.

At it’s core, Margin Call is just people talking their way through a problem. Movies like this require strong acting. After all, there are no action or sex scenes to bail out the plot. The plot is all there is. The ensemble cast puts its collective best foot forward. As an admitted apologist for Kevin Spacey (Sam Rogers), I’ll have to start with him. He endows his character with such world weariness he constantly seems on the verge of checking out. In a career chock full of showy, over the top performances, this is one of his more subtle and impactful turns. Demi Moore (Sarah Robertson) is another standout. You can really see the Herculean effort it takes to restrain herself. We can tell that the words coming from her mouth are a mere fraction of what she wants to say.

There are two actors who get to cut loose. Not that either character is flashy, they just say what’s on their mind. One is Paul Bettany playing Will Emerson. He’s Sam’s right hand man. Most of his time is spent with Peter and his buddy Seth (Badgley), both subordinates of his. Therefore, he can speak freely more often. Occasionally, he even does so to a couple of his superiors. It’s a well done portrayal. The other is the great Jeremy Irons as company CEO John Tuld. He has an immense presence and as the top dog, never minces his words.

In addition to excellent acting, MC gives us a compelling story. Obviously, its heavily inspired by the events that sent the U.S. spiraling into a recession in 2007 and 2008. Indeed, NBS is loosely based on Lehman Brothers which declared bankruptcy in ‘08. It’s a story we’re familiar with. Essentially, it’s a film about the fate of its target audience. Like so many things, the strategies that will affect the 99% are begrudgingly agreed upon in boardrooms we’re not allowed to enter. This is one we get to peek into.

MY SCORE: 9/10

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