Margin Call (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Margin Call (2011)

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The first shot of New York City is fish eyed, distorted, and from the top down. The film is built on shots looking down on the city, and only when the characters actually ponder the immensity of what's unfolding before them do they ever become dwarfed by the buildings.

And that's Margin Call in a nutshell: not exactly subtle. It's the Greek version of the '08 Financial Crisis wherein the Gods are brought down to earth by their own machinations, throwing the world into tumult and disarray in the process. It's certainly a bit more epic than last week's Immortals managed to achieve.

The story begins with a quiet revelation to a low level analyst (Zachary Quinto) who's just been spared the axe. His former boss hands him some risk he'd been analyzing, and Quinto can't help but stick around after office hours and analyze that risk.

Jeremy Irons plays a fairly evil bastard. Go fig.

It turns out his nameless behemoth of a company is leveraging more money than they're worth, which means if their assets lose any value, they're kaput. (For clarity's sake, I'm going off of my own knowledge for some of this stuff from watching Inside Job.) As the results of Quinto's program snakes its way up the corporate ladder, the desperation and echelons of power become intertwined until they reach the very top over one very long, panicked night.

On the way up, though, you'll find some of the nation's best thespians at work: Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, etc. The movie takes pleasure in turning these actors against each other, as everyone's own sense of craven amorality battle against their survival instincts. A few become philosophical, but most barely manage to comprehend the immense consequences of their actions, either personal or globally, as they fight to simply have a job in the morning.

Demi Moore has a relatively small part, but her slow realizations of how she's been betrayed are powerful moments.

It's a very driven drama that takes a great pleasure of ratcheting up the tension, which is fascinating since it's not mired in a great deal of specifics. As a simplification of the Financial Crisis, it does leave a bit to be desired. After finishing the film, my Loving Girlfriend was completely frustrated by the lack of specifics the movie throws the viewer's way. And I'll admit, my big worry entering the film was that it would dumb things down considerably or gloss them over, which it does do to an extent.

But I liked that the film dealt with these characters who didn't understand what was going on; it emphasizes how much of the crisis was one hand not knowing what the other was doing, and what was driving this relentless quest for profits. The complexity of the financial system breeds a sort of willful ignorance, as everyone becomes focused on their piece of the machine. When one piece is broken, it crashes, loudly.

Pretty sure they're going from right to left for a reason here.

Mulling over the film, it's difficult to drum up deep wells of sympathy for most of the characters; former gods were still once gods. But Margin Call wasn't a daring expose or an apology-- it's an attempt to come to terms with the insane shit that not just bankers but this entire country gives a pass to in the name of credit and profit.

I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I appreciate the try.

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Posted by Danny

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  1. Nice little film on VOD – good review.

    I agree that it certainly attempts to come to terms about what happened during a dark hour in American history.

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