Friday, November 4, 2011

Margin Call (A-)

Though my memory of the film is a bit shaky, I remember a scene about thirty minutes into Oliver Stone's 2010 semi-bust Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in which Keller Zabel Investments' (a Lehman Brothers type firm) stocks begin to collapse mid-way through a near average Wall Street trading session. Though I had a lukewarm response to the film itself, this scene very much impressed me. Shot in a fast paced and chaotic style with sharp camera turns and quick editing, Stone created a brutally honest vision of what the collapse of a financial empire would look like. Now, less than a year later, we have first-time director J.C. Chandor's Margin Call. Also set against the 2008 financial crisis, the film chooses to explore the origins which brought about the crisis rather than its repercussions on the economy.

When I first heard of Margin Call, I'll admit that I almost immediately shrugged it off. With a premise I had little interest in (I discovered the film's existence shortly after viewing the previously mentioned Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps on HBO, and after sitting through almost two and a half hours of financial information, I had little interest in doing it again), a cast of B-list celebrities who for the most part hadn't done good work in a while, and an unknown freshman director, I felt no real need to see this movie. Then about a week ago while visiting my grandma, and she started raving about the film, so it piqued my interest. Now, having just watched the film about twelve hours or so ago, I'm glad I listened to her. Margin Call may just be one of the best films to be released this year.

Though I was cynical at first of the ensemble cast, I cannot think of a single actor or actress who turned in a subpar performance. Everyone in the film played their respective roles beyond well, and the two most notable examples would probably be Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany. It's been too long since we've seen a great performance from either of these two actors (though Kevin Spacey was good in Horrible Bosses, but I'm not considering it a real "performance" performance), and each of them does a superb job in the film. While I am singling out those two performances, let it not be forgotten that everyone was fantastic in the film, and Paul Bettany could've been traded with Zachary Quinto without too much change in my praise.

Also phenomenal was J.C. Chandor's direction. Taking a near bottled setting, along with a possibly dull financial premise, J.C. Chandor has executed a high paced high stakes near thrill ride. The film, moving in partial real time as the film is set against a 24 hour period, is an always gripping experience. Unfortunately, the one minor flaw in the film comes from Chandor's script. Though the dialogue is mostly sharp and compelling, it is also sadly a bit repetitive. As an example, Zachary Quinto's character explains the oncoming financial collapse approximately three or so times to various other brokers at the firm. However, this is only a minor complaint.

Margin Call is overall probably one of the best films to be released so far this year. Its insight into the 2008 financial crisis is biting and superb, and the performances are all solid if not much greater. This is definitely a movie that should be sought out.

Grade: A-

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