Margin Call has some good things going for it like a good ensemble cast, some sharp dialogue and an interesting premise. Unfortunately that same premise only carries the movie so far before it becomes tedious and redundant. While none of the performances predominantly noteworthy, I did think Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany stood out above the rest while Jeremy Irons played his usual douchebag/villain part, though toned down.
Lionsgate | R – 107 min. – $29.99 | December 20, 2011
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Writer(s): J.C. Chandor (written by)
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Theatrical Release Date: October 21, 2011 (limited)
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Deleted Scenes
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.78
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Disc Size: 21.1 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 3.0/5
“Listen, if you really want to do this with your life you have to believe you’re necessary and you are. People want to live like this in their cars and big fucking houses they can’t even pay for, then you’re necessary. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is because we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off, and then the whole world gets really fucking fair really fucking quickly, and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them, but they also want to, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well, that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow. So fuck… Fuck normal people.” – Will Emerson
Long quote for sure, but that’s mostly the mindset of most of the characters in writer/director J.C. Chandor’s business drama, Margin Call, a fictional story about the financial crisis that crippled the United States – and the world – in 2008. The movie takes place over the course of 24 hours at one firm when a financial numbers cruncher Eric Dale (STANLEY TUCCI) discovers something off in the projections but before he could put the pieces together, he and 80% of the rest on the floor are unceremoniously and callously fired, escorted out the door by security and their company cell phones immediately shut off.
Before Eric is escorted out, he hands the work off to protégé Peter Sullivan (ZACHARY QUINTO) to fill what he could not. Meanwhile, the rest of the floor is still in shock over the major firings but manager/head of sales Sam Rogers (KEVIN SPACEY) brings them all together and gives a pep talk basically stating they survived. Rogers’ introduction is telling as we see him crying but not over the firings but because he’s found out his beloved dog is dying and no amount of money is going to save him. This is just one instance where I felt the film was a bit too on the nose with the message (the symbolism of the dog comes into play later).
At any rate, when the work day ends and the rest of the staff go to a local club to unload, Sullivan decides to stay behind and finish Eric Dale’s work which he eventually does and what he discovers is unsettling to say the least. It’s at this point I get a little glaze going over my eyes but from my understanding, this company made their money pushing around investments back and forth and there’s a certain percentage of those are risky. He’s found out that the risk factor is insanely high and the projected losses are more than what the company is worth. And, of course, this has major implications on the financial markets. I’m probably a bit off but you get the idea.
Anyway, Sullivan calls in his boss, income salesman Will Emerson (PAUL BETTANY) who in turn calls in his boss Rogers and that leads to Rogers’ boss, head of securities, Jared Cohen (SIMON BAKER) who, as Will describes, got to his position at a young age because of he’s a “shark”. At a meeting with the company legal counsel and head of risk management Sarah Robertson (DEMI MOORE), they discover Sullivan’s numbers are legit and the company’s CEO John Tuld (JEREMY IRONS) flies in.
You get the idea of what happens as the rest of the film consists of characters calmly panicking all the while asking, “Where’s Eric Dale?” to which the reply is they can’t get a hold of him and that after he was fired, his phone was shut off. This sequence happens at least four times. After the film was over, I had to ask, why? Spoiler alert, but he’s eventually found and, after a talk with Will who explains if he doesn’t come in, the severance package he received would be in jeopardy, Eric eventually comes in, sits down in an office with Sarah Robertson, whom Tuld has chosen to be the fall gal for the ordeal, and that’s basically it. Maybe it’s because I’m not deeply entrenched in the world of Wall Street and/or business, but why was it so important to be there? Once back at the firm, he never speaks to the CEO or anyone else. From what I gathered, he was called in to get a large lump sum of money instead of the severance package, but it wasn’t explained very well (or I just missed it).
In any case, that part of the movie isn’t a big deal just one that stood out. My biggest problem with the movie is that while it’s great it has a narrow scope in focusing on this one company, but I never got the sense of how big of a deal it was on the country. And no, having characters say what’s going to happen isn’t quite the same thing. Again, I understand why it was outlined this way rather than expanding out to a few firms or to an ordinary family/business, but in exchange it limits the impact. Also going against the film is it is a fictional business. If instead it was filmed in the vein of Too Big To Fail (a far better film), then it might’ve had more of an impact. Instead, Margin Call heavily relies on an all-star ensemble and what feels like artificial panic (strictly via dialogue).
Speaking of the cast, I will say that for the most part this ensemble does a relatively fine job despite the film’s shortcomings. Kevin Spacey has the meatier role and most depth as we see his change over the course of 24 hours while Paul Bettany plays probably the most interesting character, somebody who doesn’t get ahead at the firm because he’s not a shark, and yet in spite of his honesty and straightforwardness – as demonstrated when telling one of the young analysts he won’t have a job after the crisis is over –, you got a sense that he’s a man you could not trust.
The rest of the ensemble is alright, albeit most of the character drama was reserved for Spacey and Bettany. Jeremy Irons is there to play the slimy and callous CEO, an almost cartoon character culled from his part in Die Hard with a Vengeance; Zachary Quinto (whose production company co-financed the film) pulls off a decent performance, Penn Badgley has a couple of nice character moments, though like with Bettany, gets lost in the mix; Simon Baker plays the stereotypical upper management douche, ‘nuff said; Demi Moore has the least to do and appeared in the token female and cameo role; and Mary McDonnell somehow got her name on the front cover despite only appearing in one scene for 5-minutes at the very end.
Some have called writer/director J,C, Chandor’s business drama-thriller one of the best in terms of the business world, and while indeed the movie looks good, has some good performances (Spacey and Bettany stand out) and a few sharp pieces of dialogue, it never quite connects (as already laid out earlier). Personally, if you want some good movies about business/Wall Street corruption, I’d turn to the aforementioned Too Big To Fail (based on a true story), Wall Street (obviously) or even the underrated Boiler Room.
Given that this is Chandor’s feature film debut, after doing a short entitled Despacito back in ’04, I’ll give him some credit as the first half was actually pretty damn good and suspenseful, but by the time the second and third acts rolled around, it became tedious, redundant and uninvolving. I don’t know if there wasn’t enough material to carry to the end but it’s the biggest drawback to an otherwise decent movie.
In the end, Margin Call is certainly not a bad movie thanks in large part to the ensemble cast and some solid writing. However, it’s not something I’m going to remember in a week and the shortcomings of the second half almost negates what the first part had going for it. All that said, if you like movies about the business world or are in fact entrenched in business, then maybe you’ll get something more than I did.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
Audio Commentary – Director J.C. Chandor and Producer Neal Dodson sit down for a low-key but informative track where they discuss various subjects like filming locations, framing shots, working with the cast and other tidbits.
Deleted Scenes (4:29; HD) – We only get two scenes but they are accompanied with an optional commentary with Chandor. Neither scene is particularly enthralling, but you do get a few more character moments.
Revolving Door: Making Margin Call (5:54; HD) is your basic ‘making-of’ featurette with behind-the-scenes footage as the cast/crew primarily talk about the plot. It’s not really fascinating nor does it give much of a glimpse into filming.
Missed Calls: Moments with Cast & Crew (1:06; HD) offers up a fly-on-the-wall perspective as they make the movie; it’s too short to be of much value, unfortunately.
From the Deck: Photo Gallery (3:45; HD) is just a slideshow of pics from the movie.
Previews – Answers to Nothing, Albert Nobbs, The Conspirator, Winter’s Bone, Pulp Fiction, I Love You Phillip Morris
VIDEO – 4.0/5
Margin Call buys and sells its way onto Blu-ray with a good-looking, if not merely OK looking 1080p HD. The film is presented with a 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio and since it probably was shot digitally, it doesn’t quite have that film-like quality and instead looks too clean and void of any grain whatsoever. That being said, the detail level is good and the color array, for what there is, seems to be balanced.
AUDIO – 3.75/5
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track meanwhile is unsurprisingly ordinary. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it is very much a dialogue driven movie with only a few score cues every so often. Dialogue levels are crisp and clear where you can understand everything being said (albeit not exactly comprehend everything, mind you).
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, Margin Call has some good things going for it like a good ensemble cast, some sharp dialogue and an interesting premise. Unfortunately that same premise only carries the movie so far before it becomes tedious and redundant. While none of the performances predominantly noteworthy, I did think Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany stood out above the rest while Jeremy Irons played his usual douchebag/villain part, though toned down. The Blu-ray offers good video and audio transfers but the special features, save for the commentary, have much to be desired.