Margin Call

52 Movies: Week 6

Margin Call

Margin Call is an effective and gripping thriller which respects the audience’s intelligence enough to let viewers draw their own moral conclusions about the architects of the 2008 financial crisis.

Margin Call is set in the offices of a fictional investment firm on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis.  On his way out the door after a layoff, the firm’s senior risk analyst (Stanley Tucci) hands a USB stick to his brightest subordinate (Zachary Quinto).  The data on that stick reveals that the chickens have come home to roost — The firm’s years of flirtation with investment in bad debt has finally caught up to them and the assets they are holding are worthless.   The movie takes place over the following 12 hours as this information is escalated up the chain of command and decisions are made that will have consequences for the world economy.

This may sound dull but, be assured, it is not.  First time director J.C. Chandor has crafted a masterpiece of suspense.  He understands that the technical details of the crisis are not what makes this story interesting, it’s the personalities and the intrigue at play.  The script does a masterful job of conveying the events via brisk, Mamet-like exchanges of dialog rather than bogging down in exposition.  Even more critically, the script avoids the easy trap of presenting the key players in this drama as mustache twirling villains.     Make no mistake, there are few, if any, admirable characters in this movie, but all of the characters are complex and distinct, each with his or her own motivations and values.

The performances, with the possible exception of Demi Moore, all rise to the material.  Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons are all fantastic in their respective roles and Kevin Spacey was a pleasant surprise.  Going into the movie I reflected on how I’ve grown tired of Kevin Spacey but, in Margin Call, he shines with an understated performance in a complex role.

If it seems like I’ve been giving nothing but glowing reviews of late, it’s because I am busy catching up with some of 2011’s mostly highly recommended movies.  Margin Call is right up there with my favorites from 2011 and I give it the full five stars.


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