Archive for December, 2011

27th December
written by Mad Cow

Rated: R (for language – It appears that every other phrase on Wall Street is “F..k Me.”

Mad Cow’s Rating:

A modern-day fable similar to The Emperor’s New Clothes, Margin Call holds a mirror up to a slice of American life. This marvelous film is the first major motion picture written and directed by J.C. Chandor. (Note to Ohioans: Chandor credits his college days at the College of Wooster for much that he knows).  Chandor created this gem courageously, leaving out many of the excitement-inducing but often tedious trappings common to other films – car chases, the police, the media, and illicit affairs, not to mention bulging bodices in general. The movie is about the world of finance and the people in it. I’d say “plain and simple” but nothing about this environment is either.

In an unnamed Wall Street firm and during an unidentified year (hint: 2008), a firm is in trouble and then in more trouble as it discovers the wreckage it’s about to experience in the mortgage investment crisis. Long-term analyst and manager, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has just laid off 80% of the firm’s employees in a speech tinged with human compassion. We can see that he is good at this.

One discarded analyst whom Sam knows well, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) has been making some calculations that indicate disturbing news. Escorted by armed security guards on his way out, pro forma nowadays, Eric passes a jump drive on to a bright young man Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), who investigates and finds disturbing mathematical calculations forecasting a certain kind of disaster (the said lack of clothing?). The movie revolves around the ways in which the firm might solve the problem of the principals losing money.

Chandor does a marvelous job of creating (revealing) an atmospheric bubble in which all of the characters live and take for granted. The action takes place in a single night, all night long, with only three leaving the place and just one grand arrival. The frantic search for Eric is ironically amusing since the company turned his phone off when he was fired. Will Emerson(Paul Bettany, Priest, A Beautiful Mind)) sends underlings Peter and friend Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) out for him the way one sends out for Chinese. When the really big boss John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), arrives via helicopter the execs may as well be greeting the President.

The core of the story is money and it’s fascinating how each character from the lowliest to the highest, frames it. Among the elites, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) bandies blame with her peers, Sam and Jared Cohen (Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame). Cynicism and greed form the sides of the staffing prism, from the 20-something analyst who had his life set on this job to Tuld who who knows how to weather the crisis. The awaiting world means nothing.

The entire cast is outstanding and the script exemplary. Because all of the action is kept in the moment, what we see is what we get. Thus, while we can tell that Jared and Sam don’t like each other, we get no deep-background on it. The actors have no short-cuts to showing compelling and suspenseful motivation and emotion.  The generational differences are remarkable, ranging from how much I plan to make (the youngest) to what I need to continue to make it (the oldest). There doesn’t seem to have been any “saving up,” a perfect formula for undying company loyalty and a slap in the face to the American people.

Personality types, not motivation, form the core of the movie. An “ethical” exchange between Tuld and Sam illustrates this brilliantly and I do hope that Irons gets his due in playing this single-minded character. Sam, worried about his dying dog, seems more “like the rest of us” than the others, but he may just be someone with whom we’d rather share a beer. Greedy Will might have a dog too. Decisions are made and everyone along the line must carry them out or get out. The pièce de résistance is the amount of money offered to the lingering minions who are left to execute the final orders. Many of us little people went bankrupt over this national crisis. Their little people were more than saved. This is another world and Chandor has presented it in a fascinating, artistically elegant and intelligent manner. I look forward to his future work.

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