Margin Call | J.C. Chandor, 2011
There’s no doubt in my mind that the 2008 financial meltdown in Wall Street will inspire many films for years to come. In fact, there’s already been plenty of films based on, or inspired by the event, such as the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job and John Well’s The Company Men. And I’m sure in the future a great one will be released that will be the ultimate cinematic take on the subject, but the time hasn’t come yet. J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call sure tried be it, though. But as hard as they tried, and as confident as they were on their project, it is a huge failure.
Margin Call tells a fictional story of what happened the day before all hell broke loose and from the perspective of various key people. It starts out on a day where many people are getting laid off, and among them is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), someone in a high position but has become too expensive to keep. He was working on this super important project, so before he leaves he hands it over to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a relatively new analyst. And after a bunch of economical mumbo-jumbo, he discovers that bad things are about to happen and he informs his superior, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), who then informs his superior (Kevin Spacey), who then has to deal with his superior (Simon Baker), and then it goes to the top of the chain (Jeremy Irons). Then shit gets real.
As you can see, a lot of stuff happens, and that brings me to one of the few things that I liked about the film: J.C. Chandor handles all these story lines on the screen like a pro. He keeps things running smoothly and at a brisk pace, and brings out the best out of most of the actors (Paul Bettany and Penn Badgley are awful), with Spacey, Tucci, and Irons giving the best performances out of the bunch. In Spacey you can see the struggle of a man making a moral choice after years of not having to make one, Irons plays an ice-cold villain as only he can do it, and Tucci is the best at playing men who are sick and tired of doing what they do. And truly, they are the only thing that gives some gravitas to the story because as the script was written, there’s not much to hold on to.
Yes, the script is what makes the film so bad. The only complement that I can give it is that it’s well researched on the going ons of investment banks, and the use of financial lingo is impressive, but that’s it. I understand that that we don’t necessarily have to care for the characters especially since they are a bunch of assholes that screw people’s hopes and dreams for a living, so that’s not a problem. The problem is that it’s such a dialogue-driven film, and the dialogue is not good at all. Chandor tried to give the characters clever dialogue that would make David Mamet proud, but it didn’t work. It was all too technical, as if when he was writing the script he was thinking to himself “I’m gonna use these big words to make people think that I know what I’m writing about.” But when those words came out of the actors’s mouths, they felt empty, no matter how great their work was.
And don’t get me started on the symbolism, like the scene where Quinto, Bettany, and Badgley are on the roof of the building and standing in the edge, or when Spacey is diggings a grave for his dog in the last scene. So blatantly obvious and terrible.
Like I said, one day there will be a great film about the 2008 financial crisis, but Margin Call isn’t it. If any can be taken away from this is that Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Stanley Tucci are awesome, Zachary Quinto has great eyebrows (really, they are the stars of the film), and that J.C. Chandor can have a good future as a filmmaker as long as he just sticks to directing