Sundance 2011: Review - MARGIN CALL


First time filmmaker J.C. Chandor brought his directorial debut Margin Call to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and GeekTyrant was on hand to check out a press screening before the premiere. The film is a self-contained story set almost exclusively within a high profile firm in New York City just as the 2008 financial crisis is about to hit.

I know next to nothing about stocks and trading (most of what I know came from Oliver Stone's Wall Street) and even less about the cause of America's most recent financial downfall. So the movie was interesting in that it pulled back the curtain (fictionally, of course) on how a scenario like that could have happened.

Margin Call is full of really solid performances from every member of the cast. Kevin Spacey does some great work as a manager in the company and provides the backbone of the emotional connection for the audience; we can feel the weight of the company's decision sitting on his shoulders throughout the movie. Stanley Tucci was excellent in a small role as the man who basically discovers the cracks in the system and, after a great scene reminiscent of Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, passes his knowledge on to up-and-comer Zachary Quinto, who was also really enjoyable to watch.

It's unfortunate, then, that among all this great acting, the movie itself wasn't that spectacular. It's an interesting story that's heavy on the dialogue, and thus feels much longer than its 109 minute run time. This is clearly a mainstream film that I'm sure will do fine in theaters later this year if it gets distribution (Harvey Weinstein was in our screening checking the film out), but I couldn't ever get emotionally invested in the characters. Jeremy Irons was phenomenal as the ruthless (and potentially inept?) boss figure, and, along with Paul Bettany's occasional asides, added a look into the psychology of guys that make millions of dollars a year and blow it like it's nothing. Perhaps their indifference to the massive quantities of money they were making (unjustly, to be sure) was the reason for my disconnect with the movie.

The worst offense of this film, however, is that one event occurs in the opening minutes of the movie, and the rest of runtime is devoted to explaining - again and again, ad nauseum - the same series of events to more powerful people up the corporate ladder. I was speaking with someone about this after the movie, and she claimed that's how things work in real life: something happens, and then you have to get people up to speed as they enter the scenario. My response was that movies don't have to imitate real life to that degree; there's a more interesting way of getting that point across, but Margin Call doesn't know (or care) how to do it.

For me, Margin Call felt like The Firm meets Glengarry Glen Ross, but without the bite of either film. This certainly isn't a bad film, but I didn't find it quite up to the standard of its exceptional cast. Click here to see the poster for the movie and stay tuned to GeekTyrant for more coverage of Sundance 2011.

Here's the official synopsis from Sundance:

Set in the high-stakes world of the financial industry, Margin Call is a thriller entangling the key players at an investment firm during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster. Expanding the parameters of genre, Margin Call is a riveting examination of the human components of a subject too often relegated to partisan issues of black and white.

JC Chandor’s enthralling first feature is a stark and bravely authentic portrayal of the financial industry and its denizens as they confront the decisions that shape our global future.

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