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Movie review: Margin Call
If you haven't already noticed, the financial world is in a bit of a pickle. Rumours of it all being down to an assistant called Derek in a Leeds branch of Natwest who got confused with his new calculator have yet to be confirmed, but it's only a matter of time before everyone knows the truth.
During times of economic woes, studios often do their best to release a fluff-fest of films, to help take our mind off of things. As if a big screen version of The Smurfs could transport an audience to anything other than a very dark place.
Newbie director/writer J.C Chandor however, was given the green light to produce a film that, inspired by a true story, follows a group of investment bankers during the mother of all financial crises.
Although Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) has been working a number of years in Risk Management, he didn't manage to predict his own redundancy from a top financial firm. Just as he was working on something big too.
Just as one of his young member of staff Peter (Zachary Quinto) wishes him well at the lift doors, Eric leaves him with two words: be careful. He also hands him a USB drive.
While other members of the staff go out and celebrate the fact that they didn't get canned, Peter stays late and checks out the material Eric gave him. With a few tweaks to the material, Peter discovers just what Eric was getting at, and it's huge. So much so that all the bosses are alerted and return to work in the middle of the night to assess just how bad things are likely to get. As it turns out, very bad indeed.
Although there's no actual utterance of the line "Greed is God", it certainly manifests itself a lot within the script and characters. So much so that this is probably the more likely natural successor to Stone's original Wall Street than its sequel will ever be. Its director was no doubt aided by the fact that his own father worked for Merrill Lynch for thirty years, so you couldn't really ask for better inside trading information than that.
The film certainly benefits from a terrific cast that also includes Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker (TV's The Mentalist) and Jeremy Irons. And less so from Demi Moore. It's just surprising that they all appear in it.
The heart of the problem is this: the film's writer/director is no David Mamet, and as try as he might, this is nowhere in the same league as Glengarry Glenross. He may well get a modicum of tension and drama from the situation he creates, but sadly the dialogue is as flat as the Netherlands. It's almost as if he has actors who have created solid 3D characters, but only have 2D dialogue to give them.
And then there's the topic itself. It's difficult to care about a bunch of bankers. Even if one of them did play Spock on the big screen. None of them are likeable, with the possible exception of Stanley Tucci's character; but as he gets fired within the first five minutes, he doesn't really count.
Then you have to consider this: do audiences really want to pay to go see a film that just reminds them that the reason they're not as well off as they used to be is down to a bunch of bankers? No one is expecting a Disney ending, but at the same time perhaps its timing is a little off. It would be like releasing a film about the twin towers the day after 9/11.
It's impressive that Chandor managed to attract such a great cast – on his debut too – it's just a pity that his script failed to deliver them with anything worth saying.
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