- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations continue to dominate the news, a movie like “Margin Call” is only going to help stoke the flames, even if it was sheer dumb luck that the protests coincided with its theatrical release. Obviously, a film about the economic recession would have been just as timely a year ago as it is today, but "Margin Call" nevertheless packs an extra punch when viewed in the context of the current political climate. Though it isn’t the first time that the recession has been used as the backdrop of a movie, director J.C. Chandor at least makes his story unique by focusing on the cause of the crash rather than the aftereffects.
Set during the early days of the 2008 financial crisis, the film takes place at a New York investment firm that's begun cutting costs by making massive layoffs. One of the first to get the axe is risk management executive Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who’s more concerned with the work that he’s leaving behind than the details of his severance package. Eric was supposedly working on something big, and before leaving the building, he hands junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) a USB drive and warns him to be careful. Peter's curiosity gets the best of him, and within a few hours, he's pieced together what Eric was on the verge of uncovering: the firm is in danger of a catastrophic collapse. After Peter brings it to the attention of his superiors (Paul Bettany and Kevin Spacey) and the firm’s higher-ups are called back into the office, he watches on in amazement as they come up with a plan to keep the firm afloat without anyone having to surrender their big bonuses; even if it means single-handedly destroying the stock market in the process.
Though Chandor could have easily used the ripped-from-the-headlines events to push a political agenda, the writer/director does a good job of remaining relatively unbiased by letting the story speak for itself. But while he delivers a fairly believable account of the sort of panicked decision making that was likely going on throughout Wall Street at the time, it doesn’t always work in the film’s favor. For starters, the audience doesn't have anyone to root for. Although most of the characters aren't necessarily bad guys, they don't give you a reason to like them, either – including Spacey’s seasoned executive, who stands by the firm even after questioning the morality of what they’ve done – and as a result, it's difficult to care what happens to them. It’s also a little leisurely paced for a movie where the characters are forced to think quickly and act even quicker, and unless you're well-versed in broker terminology, there's a good chance you'll feel lost at times.
Fortunately, Chandor has a stellar ensemble cast of actors at his disposal, most of whom are at the top of their game here – particularly Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons as the steely head of the firm, and Paul Bettany in a dynamic performance that makes you wonder why he’s been wasting his time making genre films for the past few years. But while Chandor’s script does well to inject some suspense into the story by keeping things tight and claustrophobic with everyone trapped in the office like rats in a cage, it’s the actors who truly make the material interesting, even if you don't always understand what they’re talking about. Without them, “Margin Call” probably would have been a complete bore, but as it stands, it’s a solid debut that's worth seeing for the cast alone.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Don’t be deceived by the seemingly strong list of bonus material featured on the Blu-ray release of “Margin Call,” because with the exception of the audio commentary track by director J.C. Chandor and producer Neal Dodson (which is actually quite informative), they’re not worth your time. The making-of featurette “Revolving Door” isn’t nearly as revealing as you’d hope, while the so-called “moments with the cast and crew” is only a minute long. There’s also a photo gallery and a pair of insignificant deleted scenes.