Friday, August 12, 2011
MARGIN CALL (video)
The key players at an investment firm become entangled during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster.
A not-unentertaining excavation of the recent stock market crash on Wall Street, as seen from the point of view of an investment bank that sees which way the wind is blowing and decides to trigger the whole meltdown. "It's not called panic if you're first out the door," as one character crisply observes.
Margin Call is constructed like a thriller but is one that plays out on an abstract, technical level – there's no drama of cover-up or corruption here.
A junior risk-management bod (Zachary Quinto) figures out that the firm is overexposed and may go belly up; cue a shuffling upwards of responsibility as ever more august company men try to get their heads around the situation. It is only when the most senior of all, Tuld – played by Jeremy Irons as a whacked-out Eurotrash simpleton – choppers in that drastic enough decisions can be taken.
First-time director JC Chandor tries to inject a little humanity into the slick-hair-and-fat-braces characters – masters of the universe familiar from The Bonfire of the Vanities and American Psycho.
Chandor has a sense of the absurd: in a scene where Baker discusses doomsday strategy in a lift with Demi Moore's financial controller, they talk cryptically over the head of a sheepish cleaning woman, who trundles her trolley ahead of them in powerless rebuke.
This is a moderate and rather airless attack on the great social upheaval of recent times, despite the universally fine performances. It cannot resist the seductive machismo of Boiler Room or Oliver Stone's Wall Street; nor can it bring itself to unequivocally hammer its characters for their all-consuming commitment to the firm, even after they've been ousted. But it may be the closest American cinema will get.