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Margin Call - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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"There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat," asserts the ruthless CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) in this year's big money drama, Margin Call.

Beginning on a slow afternoon at a large investment bank on Wall Street in 2008, risk management worker Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is informed that the majority of the workers on his floor including himself are being let go. He is not given reasons for his termination, only that he is to be severed from the company completely. On his way out, he palms off a 'project' he's been working on to bright young analyst Peter (Zachary Quinto), who stays back to finish it, only to discover rather distressing irregularities in the company's capital stock market. As the urgent problem is made aware to his immediate superiors Will (Paul Bettany) and veteran banker Sam (Kevin Spacey), they soon realise that what is about to happen, or what has already happened, will ultimately destroy the company.

Centred around the 2008 global financial crisis, this systematic and slow-moving drama is as realistic as it is political. The problem falls into the lap of the heads of risk and securities (Demi Moore and Simon Baker respectively) who don't know what else to do but call a meeting with the aforementioned CEO who decides to make everyone sell off the assets before the market can react to the news of their worthlessness. Without going into the nuts and bolts of it, Margin Call is about action and reaction. When things start happening – terrible things – it's about questioning our morals and consulting our integrity, all for a few dollars more. The mentality of Tuld as the film's 'villain' is that money governs our lives, but ignorance governs money. Suddenly, when one of the biggest financial institutions in the world get in too deep, everybody starts pointing the finger at everybody else passing the parcel and praying the music doesn't stop when it's in their lap. To help us get our heads around this are solid performances all-round from an ensemble cast, marking elegant big screen returns for Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons, with a standout presentation from Kevin Spacey who wholesomely captures the hapless old-fashioned and veracious head of sales.

This is an impressive debut from writer/director J.C. Chandor but it is not a film that will impress everyone. The film almost overstays its welcome with a 105-minute runtime compiled mostly of dry and at times erroneous dialogue, but for a more mature audience it is a true vindication of capitalism that reminds us of the Ernest Hemingway story The Old Man and The Sea – if you catch a big fish, don't try and take it back to shore in one trip tied to the side of the boat, because before long it will be picked apart by sharks.

***1/2 out of *****

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Why? A big money drama with a big money cast
When: October 21, 2011 (US)
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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