Plot: In 2008, a young upcoming investment banker spots a flaw in some data that eventually unfolds into 24 hours of madness and the beginning of the now infamous banking crisis.
Thoughts: The economy is a vital part of what keeps countries and societies afloat within the modern world and yet, it’s such a complex cog in the internal working mechanisms of daily life. Few people seem to care about it and even fewer appear to understand it, leading many to question how entertaining a film based around the inner-workings of such a machine could be. Oliver Stone’s heavily dramatised ‘Wall Street’ and its sequel are two of the biggest hitting pictures Hollywood has seen in this area in the last 25 years, and yet neither managed to accurately address the serious situations that bankers face on a regular basis. It appears only an independent movie with a fresh, strong script at its centre can truly delve into the shocking madness that lines the halls of Wall Street’s skyscrapers.
The real heart of Margin Call comes directly from its very genesis, new-comer J.C. Chandor’s sharp, honest and entertaining script. Chandor not only manages to breathe much-needed humanity into his tough and determined characters but he also manages to completely re-write how we see bankers as human beings. It would have been so much easier, and so much more Hollywood to make a feature that points a finger at the villainous, greedy old men that ripped a whole in the world’s economy, but Chandor does almost the complete opposite; he gives these men dignity and respect. He’s created a film solely based on a single decision and the build-up to it that manages to remain even in pace and flair through its entire running-time, whilst still creating likable and sensitive characters who work in possibly the most hated occupation in the world.
The events themselves, although strung together with the obvious technical jargon, slide into each other with ease and fluidity, nothing is random. We move from board-room to board-room, heated debate to heated debate, and not a second is misplaced; nothing is filled out. Everything fits together like clock-work, detailing one of the biggest financial down-turns in modern history with care and precision and without ever pointing the finger of blame.
However, a great script is only a great script if its not presented in the necessary format. Chandor takes on directing responsibilities himself, showing clean-cut accuracy with every shot, but leaving his newbie status on show. The steady tone of the script is equalled with ease, but there’s no particular shine to his visual presentation. We get what is written and nothing more, which is not in anyway a bad thing, but ultimately limits the film’s potential reach. Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar winning script for The Social Network could only do so much on its own without David Fincher to direct it masterfully. With the application of someone such as Fincher on Margin Call, the ultimate execution could have been entirely more tense and gripping than what stands today as a rather dull but interesting “thriller”.
With an award-winning script filled with slick, intelligent dialogue in the bag, Margin Call seriously needed the top acting talent on its bill to promote itself from potential TV-movie to festival-circuit film. Kevin Spacey stands atop the crowd, giving the driving emotional force the piece desperately needed to salvage itself from total economic dependency. Other notable turns are put in by an utterly spot-on Jeremy Irons, filtering in a great level of sinister charm and presence, as well as young Zachary Quinto, who finds his feet among the great established acting talents that over-hang his subtle but extraordinary performance. Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci hold their own with fine portrayals providing no real surprises and an otherwise unseen Simon Baker makes a fantastically spiteful high-flyer who you can’t help but love to hate.
What Margin Call lacks in visual flair it certainly makes up for in intelligence and humanity. Although devoid of explosions, blood-ridden carcasses and ingenious plot twists, Chandor’s film manages to be both surprisingly engrossing and uncharacteristically entertaining, creating a picture that feeds off its outstanding script and award-worthy performances to great effect. Margin Call is an important gem that will no doubt remain hidden if not for its noteworthy cast, but it stands as primary evidence of how it is indeed possible to make a clever, absorbing and captivating movie without resorting to expensive flashy effects and familiar dramatic shooting styles.