Monday, October 24, 2011

Movie: Margin Call (2011)

No doubt a slew of Occupy Wall Street movies will be in release next year. Odds are they won’t do as good a job of explaining how we got into our current fiscal morass than J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call. And it makes its case the hard way, showing compassion for those on the other side of the desk.

In 2008 Peter Sullivan, a young analyst at an investment bank (Zachary Quinto, who also produced), celebrates surviving another corporate bloodletting by wrapping up a project begun by his downsized mentor Stanley Tucci. Peter adds up the numbers only to discover the numbers don’t add up. He spends the rest of the night explaining to his superiors just how screwed the firm and the economy will shortly be.

Chandor’s compression of the financial collapse into a critical day and a half allows him to do the unthinkable: he humanizes the Masters of the Universe who currently find themselves occupied. His script, full of smart dialogue and galvanizing scenes, is by turns darkly comic and deeply terrifying. The higher Peter goes in the bank’s structure the more he has to simplify what he says. A bland HR rep apologizes to Tucci for what seem like punitive measures when he’s terminated only to have those precautions, like shutting off Tucci’s phone, render him inaccessible at the very moment he’s needed most. The film approaches Joseph Heller levels of absurdity when bank president Jeremy Irons decides to stage a fire sale of toxic assets knowing it will trigger a meltdown (“It’s not panic when you’re the first one out the door”) and you find yourself agreeing with his sensible approach.

A top flight cast makes the most of the material, particularly a stiletto-sharp Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey as a salesman clinging to the belief that there’s still honor in his profession, and Irons, who closes out the proceedings with a chilling rationale of how we got to this point, what will follow suit, and why it’s destined to happen again. Margin Call is in theaters and for rent via iTunes and on demand, so you’ve got no excuse for missing one of the best movies of the year.