191 of 206 people found the following review helpful
First-Time Filmmaker Deftly Handles the Financial Meltdown on Human-Size Terms,
This review is from: Margin Call (DVD)
Having been the victim of corporate downsizing more than once, I was immediately engaged with this propulsive 2011 corporate drama from the beginning as Stanley Tucci's character, a seasoned risk management executive named Eric Dale, is told in a coldly indifferent manner that he is being laid off after 19 years with the same unnamed Wall Street firm. It's a piercing yet dramatically economical scene that perfectly summarizes how bloodless the corporate world can be, and in first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor's effort set on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, it is very cold indeed with 80% of the trading floor being let go. As Dale is escorted out of the building, he hands a flash drive to his prodigious assistant Peter Sullivan and tells him to take a look at it and "Be careful."
Once Sullivan analyzes the data, he realizes the universal gravity of Dale's warning - that the firm is so over-committed to underwater mortgage-backed securities that the total potential loss exceeds the firm's total market capitalization value. In other words, the projected scenario means the firm will soon owe a lot more than it's worth, and the market will be on the verge of an apocalyptic meltdown. What happens after this discovery is a series of sharply intense clandestine confrontations with each level of higher-ups recognizing the ramifications of the inevitable disaster, each one far more nuanced in character than we are used to seeing in films from Oliver Stone about greed and immorality. Blessedly, Chandor doesn't stoop to the customary stereotypes in this corporate cage match, but what he does manage is capture the moral compass underneath each player by way of a cast that really delivers the goods with powerfully implosive performances.
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) is initially at the center of the plot as Sullivan and performs well enough in the constraining, semi-heroic role, but the veterans really stand out here beginning with Kevin Spacey, who effectively plays against type as Sam Rogers, a genuine company man, the seen-it-all head of the trading team who rallies what's left of the trading floor with corporate brio but then faces his own cross to bear struggling to commandeer a fire sale of worthless assets dumped on unsuspecting clients. The other standout is Jeremy Irons, who masterfully resuscitates the cool cunning of his Claus von Bulow from Reversal of Fortune as the acerbically survivalist CEO John Tuld. He handily controls the boardroom scene with cutting humor and hostile precision. One of the film's more pleasant surprises is Demi Moore in cool, brisk form as Sarah Robertson, the top risk officer and lone female executive who knows her career is at stake with the discovery of this folly. Tucci is excellent in his smallish role as Dale and gets to show off his resigned character's engineering aptitude with a brief monologue about building a bridge.
Comparatively less impressive but playing their more predictable roles fitfully are Penn Badgley as Sullivan's younger, overtly money-obsessed colleague Seth Bregman; Paul Bettany as Dale's nihilistic, snake-oil salesman of a boss, Will Emerson; and Simon Baker as the most morally despicable executive of the bunch, Jared Cohen. Mary McDonnell has a brief and frankly unnecessary scene as Rogers' ex-wife, and I didn't even recognize the usually hilarious Broadway personality Susan Blackwell as the hatchet woman in the opening scene. There are a few flaws with Chandor's observant screenplay, for example, the overly analogous scenes of Rogers dealing with his dying dog and a rooftop scene that plays up Emerson's nihilistic nature too predictably. In addition, some scenes play either too murkily or too clinically to achieve the precise dramatic effect they should. I think the absence of a musical score also contributes to the sterility of the proceedings. However, as a first-time filmmaker, Chandor more than impresses with his deft handling of such a zeitgeist moment with the Occupy Wall Street protests gaining understandable momentum right now.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 17, 2011 10:48:12 AM PST
Mary Wilbur says:
Great review. I really appreciate it.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 18, 2011 9:08:43 PM PST
Thanks for the praise, Maryevelyn.
Posted on Dec 27, 2011 2:05:46 AM PST
D. Ellsworth says:
I agree. Excellent review. Looking forward to seeing this gem on DVD when it makes it to my Region.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2011 1:27:34 PM PST
Thank you for the kind words, D. Ellsworth.
Posted on Feb 24, 2012 5:44:11 AM PST
I saw the film a couple of weeks ago and I just read your review today. Very insightful. I enjoyed the film also. I also watched "Inside Job" about a week before which actually helped in figuring out what was going on in "Margin Call." I suspect those few who didn't like the film probably had a hard time understanding it.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 29, 2012 4:35:20 PM PST
You're probably right, Richard. I think you need a basic undrstanding of the markets to pick up on what's going on. Thanks.
Posted on May 10, 2012 11:56:39 AM PDT
Star Bux says:
Posted on May 10, 2012 12:14:14 PM PDT
Star Bux says:
There is a difference between selling to parties you
do not know, or cannot see, and selling to somebody
you do know, or can see... Would you sell something
you knew was worthless to another? Would anybody
buy something that was worthless?... Some companies
will buy another company, not because of the physical
assets that company possesses, but because it has a
history of losing money. And so, for a price, what that
company has bought is a capital loss which can be used
to reduce their taxes in future years when they are
profitable... That is the rationale given for why some
companies own unprofitable sports franchises.... So,
when selling something that is worthless (to you) on
the stock market, anonymously, how guilty should you
feel, or at all?... The stock market, to me, is like a poker
game, played with strangers. EVerybody understands that
it is essentially zero-sum (although, that is not necessarily
true, for the elderly would rather sell something worthless
to a young person for a lot of money in return -- the young
person can afford to lose a lot... Economists call that the
overlapping generations model - which makes the stock market
not really as zero-sum, as it may first appear to be.), and
as long as the game is honest, and not rigged, the players
are OK with it.... In this movie, though, it would seem they
were selling something worthless to persons they knew...
And so it is akin to a used car salesman, or realtor, who sells
a house, or a car, to some prospective customer without
first telling that customer of all the known defects and flaws
with the item in question... Interesting, Kevin Spacey is in this
movie... He once played a hot tub salesman (with a mustache)
in a short erotic film. I mention that because I still think that that
was his best work. His second best being that SNL sketch where
he played Walter Mathau and Christopher Walken trying out for
parts in George Lucas' movie, Star Wars. Soo funny.... But he's
pretty good in this movie too.
Price is what you pay ; value is what you get.
Some have access to information others do not have
access to, by virtue of being able to surf the web, or
reading the "right article" in a certain newspaper...
And others are better able to analyze the information
present before them, whilst to others, it is "gibberish"...
It is a game, you see? But dishonesty, accounting fraud,
that sort of thing, reduces financial capital markets into
casinos, and chases away the rational investor in favour
of the kind of crowd you see at horserace tracks and
games called '21' at casinos... Communists desire to turn
the stock market into a giant casino, rather than a means
by which wealth is created through ownership of enterprises.
For example, some claim that stock prices resemble a "random
walk" and are essentially meaningless. But consider the Coca Cola
Company, and how it has grown over the decades, and is now
growing in other parts of the world. Over a hundred year time
period, the stock price, though it has gone up and down, has
generally trended up.... But if a share of Coca-Cola no longer
represented legal ownership of a firm, and became as a baseball
card, or wallpaper,... Accounting fraud is bad, very bad... Ever
see the movie 'Boiler Room'? : That is what "white-collar terrorism"
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2013 7:36:02 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2013 7:36:43 PM PDT
S. Pelovsky says:
I thought Demi Moore's performance was the weakest in the movie. She did a poor representation of a top female exectutive. She let the Simon Baker character do most of the talking at their meetings and that would never happen in the real world. I think she just sleepwalked through her role.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2013 4:19:22 AM PDT
Mark Lahren says:
If that's the case, I don't think that would be a problem with her performance, but rather the writing, which by the way I had no problem with.
In any case, I found this to be one of her best performances.
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