Friday, 9 December 2011

Oscars 2011 - MARGIN CALL

Despite being released in a year of financial turmoil and global protests like Occupy Wall Street, Margin Call fails to bring a sense of danger or precariousness to the "financial thriller" genre.

Rather than explain the plot of Margin Call (which is a dramatization of the collapse inside a major, fictional financial firm), I'd rather discuss the performances. There are a number of respectable actors in the Margin Call ensemble, but none so outstanding as Kevin Spacey or Jeremy Irons. I'm not sure if they're at the "top of their game," as many critics have said, but they certainly do well playing the disinterested, soulless Wall Street executive. Zachary Quinto's Peter Sullivan mumbles around the firm's offices equipped with a set of lifeless, zombie eyes and a handful of blank expressions. His shot at a Best Actor nomination is effectively nonexistant, and both Irons and Spacey have stiff competition as potential Supporting Actor nominees.

The film works best when it montages us through scary days in the financial cycle, and the apocalyptic quotes from Irons and Spacey do well to have us believe the level of destruction an implosion on Wall Street can wreak upon an economy.

"The music is about to stop, and we are holding the greatest pile of odiferous excrement in the history of capitalism."
The film's most electric scene (and that's not saying very much) is the "fire-sale" sequence involving a crisis-mode bidding war on the day the financial implosion happens. It is easily the best and most compelling scene in Margin Call, but it lasts only a minute or so.

Other great moments are fleeting, and scattered too far apart in Margin Call's glacial pace to register as impactful or "important" as other Wall Street films. When Stanley Tucci's character recalls his construction engineer past before becoming a financial exec, he brings a powerful anecdote to the table in terms of numbers and the effect they have when compounded upon people's lives. I'm paraphrasing, but he tells a story about building a bridge between two waterfront towns, and the 20 minutes or so he saved people from driving around the coast to get from point A to point B added up to millions of minutes when multiplied by the amount of people that took the bridge instead. This scene, combined with Tucci's marked depression, is telling of how life is viewed as a math problem for some, reflecting the overall impression that Wall Street gambles with money. It's enlightening, which is not the case for the rest of the film.

Unfortunately, and I credit newcomer writer / director J. C. Chandor for the sentiments, the good does not outweigh the dull and confusing nature of these less-than-thrilling math scares.


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