Friday, October 28, 2011

Margin Call

A beautifully realized debut piece by J.C. Chandor, made with much craft and care. A young investment broker (Zachary Quinto, utilizing those magnificent eyebrows to the utmost) puts together a market projection in 2008 and realizes that the world stands on the brink of the largest financial disaster since the great depression.
The film recounts, in a lovely dusk til dawn fashion, the way in which the news is carried up the company hierarchy throughout the night, giving us a methodical yet humane representation of the amorality and emptiness of the modern world of business and the people who inahbit it. The actors are all excellent and one of the pleasures of the film is to guess who will show up on the next level of the company ladder. All of this culminates in a delicious shot of a helicopter arriving in the middle of the night as the boss of bosses arrives, played by a hammy-yet-solid Jeremy Irons who exudes both delicious malevolence and gravitas. Irons' character, CEO John Tuld, is unfortunately the flimsiest in the film, a caricature of evil, though as a symbol for corporate greed he serves his purpose well. Between him and the underlings, played by Quinto and Penn Badgley, lie several levels of corporate bureaucracy. The structure of the film almost resembles a video game or the old Bruce Lee flick Game of Death  where one has to progress through different levels all culminating in increasingly horrifying villains and monsters. The only difference is that here the end-boss is not to be defeated but placated, especially since he or she holds the promise of a severance package, stock options and health care.

The film does not vilify these people primarily because it doesn't have to. We all sadly know the depths to which hedge-fund managers and brokers can - and did- sink. Chandor does indeed humanize his subjects yet they all remain astoundingly dislikable. Our empathy arises primarily from the realization that most of these people are sad, beat and broken, servants of forces that seem almost entirely outside of their control, the unholy priests of a new - or perhaps very old - cult, the deity of which is both unforgiving and merciless, even towards his most faithful disciples. There is a kind of nihilism underlying the world of big business and it seeps into the lives of the people who live and breathe the world of money. The tragedy of the story lies in how empty these people are, completely disconnected from anything remotely moral or spiritual. The characters repeatedly talk about the seemingly ontological divide between themselves and the "regular people" who live outside the esoteric realm of Wall Street. Chandor's accomplishment lies in pointing out how inevitable this gap is, perpetuated by a kind of moral apathy rather than maliciousness, similar to the way in which the lifestyle of most Westerners perpetuate and magnify the suffering of people in less developed parts of the world.

With a particular standout performance by Kevin Spacey and solid turns by Simon Baker and Demi Moore, the film is very well acted and superbly produced. It does leave one with a somewhat empty feeling, perhaps inevitably so, although Chandor could have done a better job in fleshing out the human tragedy of a world where faceless corporations provide the only compass of loyalty and devotion and where ideals, morality and integrity are not so much abandoned but simply rather fade away. As it stands the film is a welcome reflection on an important moment in history and in spite of several flaws in scripting and characterization it is an assured and exciting debut.

1 comment:

Reido Bandito said...

For whatever reason, this one flew under the radar for me. But it sounds pretty cool.