It came and it went so fast, I never got a chance to see Margin Call when it played in screenings or in theaters. I finally requested a screener — because, you know, I like to throw around my power in this town — and have watched it twice and am about to watch it a third time. Why, because you don’t get writing this good very often in Hollywood films. Or acting, for that matter. Supporting turns by Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore and Zachary Quinto are all so, so good. But what kind of grabbed me by the throat with this film was how prescient it is: understanding what’s happened, why it happened, how it happened, what people could have been thinking is key to understanding why there are so many violent protests now. Margin Call is both a demostration of Capitalism working and Capitalism failing miserably. But more than that, it is just great filmmaking.
The New Yorker’s David Denby calls it “one of the strongest American films of the year and easily the best Wall Street movie ever made.” And believe “It’s about corporate manners—the protocols of hierarchy, the rituals of power, and, most of all, the difficulty of confronting flagrant habits of speculation with truth.”
The strangest thing about it is that it’s the feature debut for J.C. Chandor who, I am sure, is going to have a promising career after this. This movie reminds me of Steven Soderbergh’s film debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape. There is the same sort of confidence in storytelling, the same ability to direct actors this good that well. Read more about Chandor here. Funny Stu Van Airsdale of Movieline also did an interview with Chandor about the 15 years it took him to make Margin Call.
Trust me, my friends, if a movie takes almost 15 years to make? You know it’s got to be good. In fact, it’s very nearly flawless I’d say.
It captures the paranoia of our time – the fall from such heights that we’ve experienced. The characters in Margin Call are high rollers – smart people who have been making shitloads of money off of faulty securities or credit default swaps or whatever you call them (I had to have it explained to me) who catch the problem on the eve of the system’s complete and total collapse . The truly chilling thing about Margin Call, though, in the end, isn’t that this company is seeing its last days. It’s that we know these fat cats are going to keep making money and doing just fine. The company in Margin Call grabs what little money there is left to grab just as things are falling apart.
The trick for the Oscars is going to be getting Academy members to actually watch the movie. I think the way in is through the actors who tend to be sharper about great ensemble performances, the writers, who should not ignore this brilliant screenplay, and perhaps the producers who can appreciate a scrappy writer/director doing something this good on the cheap.
The performances are so good, in fact, that finding a standout is tough. Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons are the three who stand out to me. I also, maybe for the first time ever, was impressed with Demi Moore.
One of the best moments, among many, is when Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley are in coming up in an elevator. Quinto already knows what’s about to go down but Badgley doesn’t, really. He’s 23 years old and making a quarter of a million dollars. He starts to blow into his bottle and make it whistle. Quinto holds out his hands as if to say, “really?” Badgley laughs and stops. It’s such a great moment because it’s so unexpected. Later in the film Badgley will be crying his eyes out in the bathroom, but in that moment the calm before the storm is illustrated beautifully.
Margin Call is one of the best films of 2011.