Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Margin Call Review

by Francisco Salazar

Power, money, and corruption describe Margin Call, a solid thriller about the 2008 financial Meltdown. The film opens as junior employees Peter Sullivan (a passive Zachary Quinto), his co-worker  Seth Bergman (a charismatic Penn Badgley) and senior trader Emerson (Paul Bettany) watch human resources layoff workers. One of the laid-off workers is their boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), in charge of risk management. As he leaves his office Eric gives Sullivan a USB he believes has important information for the business. His parting words are "Be Careful." These words come back to haunt Sullivan as he finishes Eric's work and discovers that the firm is in crisis. All hell breaks loose sparking all the company's big guns into action until eventually CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) reveals that he will sell all his worthless assets in order to save his company.

All the events occur in a time frame of 24 hours making for a tense ride. However, the film lacks a true central character even though the film initially hints at Peter Sullivan as our hero. However, after setting the entire film in motion, Sullivan becomes nothing more than a plot device, doling out information for those who need some updating. During one scene, Sullivan and Rogers (Kevin Spacey) are having a conversation about their next moves and all Sullivan can think to do is ask question after question. Even when you think the scene is done, he comes up with another question, which gets a bit testy. It doesn't help that Zachary Quinto plays Sullivan with a poker face and does not seemed worried in the least. He's one of the youngest workers in the company and even if he made the discovery, there's no assurance that he's well protected. And even if he was, there should be other concerns on his mind right? Quinto does not provide the viewer with any insight into Sullivan's mind. 

I wouldn't complain about the lack of character development. This is more of a slice of life so to speak and its characters mere symbols to help the uninitiated have a clearer understanding of how the events unraveled. However, we are treated to some excellent performances throughout. Kevin Spacey stands out as Sam Rogers, who faces a moral dilemma of  whether he should fall into the trap of corruption or quit the firm before they commit fraud. He takes the mantle of being the film's central character in the final half as everyone else's actions hinge on his. Spacey's performance is internalized and doesn't give away much. Spacey is one of those actors who has the ability to pull the viewer in and make him/her wonder what is going on inside the character's mind. That is no exception in this performance and it is easily one of the more compelling I have seen from Spacey in some time. 

However, it is Jeremy Irons who steals the show in a towering performance as charismatic CEO John Tuld with coldness and assertion. Knowing full well that this is one of those men that has ruined our country, it is easy to hate him. However, the charisma and passion that Irons brings to Tuld sucks you in and even makes you understand him despite your every attempt to resist. Paul Bettany plays an ambiguous executive with a tragic aura. 

The film making is relentless. The subject matter is heavy, but a strong script and balanced pacing enables for the audience to keep up without letting up on the tension. 

Margin Call demonstrates that no matter how much dilemmas or moral qualms human's have, money and power ultimately win over. While it may not appeal to a wide audience, Margin Call is certainly a thought-provoking and engaging film that shows promise in J.C Chandor’s directing abilities.


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