Watching Margin Call is like watching a 105-minute first act of a real movie. The entire film is exposition with no real action.
One can typically find redeeming qualities in almost any film. Most times it’s possible, when giving an opinion on a particular movie, to say, “Well, at least the [blank] was good,” even if everything else was terrible. This is not the case with Margin Call, which is easily the most boring and pointless film of 2011. Writer/director J.C. Chandor, whose only previous credit is a short film, has taken what could have been an intricately woven, fast-paced thriller and completely gutted from it any discernible entertainment value or artistic expression.
The film is credited as being “inspired by a true story,” but there is no way Chandor would have any access to the world which he attempts to imitate. Set in 2008, Margin Call opens with a large Wall Street investment firm cleaning house and firing a large chunk of its staff. One of the people let go is risk management expert Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Before he is escorted from the building, he hands off a jump drive to one of his now-former employees, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto).
Working late into the night, Peter discovers the missing components Eric didn’t see and realizes that the entire company is on the verge of complete shutdown. Neither Peter’s boss, Will (Paul Bettany), nor his boss’s boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey), knows what to do, or even has the authority to do something if they did. As the most senior executives begin gathering to figure out a solution, it’s clear that there really aren’t many options. Over the course of 24 hours, the financial meltdown looms large. The CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) finally gives the order to sell everything, knowing full well that what his traders are selling is worthless.
Watching Margin Call is like watching a 105-minute first act of a real movie. The entire film is exposition with no real action. The characters all talk in over-the-top “subtext,” with each line of dialogue dripping with self importance. Chandor has no sense of filmmaking whatsoever as either a writer or director. His “story” goes nowhere with an absurd number of characters who the audience has no reason to care about. The film also moves at an infuriating pace with unnecessary conversations that add nothing to the plot but make the vapid story sound thoughtful and intelligent. Chandor sets up many different conflicts and routes that the plot could have taken, but seems to have overwhelmed himself and so doesn’t follow through on any of them.
Why the cast needed so many big-name actors is a mystery. There is no reason for the mostly talented cast to be involved in such a weak project unless they thought it would have some real impact on the political zeitgeist. Though the studio couldn’t have known it, there would have been no better time for this film to be released, as now the Occupy Wall Street movement has hit its stride. But instead of being a blistering indictment on capitalism, Margin Call is instead a flaccid vanity project for an aging group of actors who are desperate to stay relevant. | Matthew Newlin