Ed reviews 'Margin Call'

Kevin Spacey stands out among the ensemble in the economic thriller. Submitted photo.

4 stars (out of five)


Margin Call takes place over the course of one night,

the night in 2008 when Wall Street came undone. It focuses on a small group of

people at one company. Someone has discovered the very bad things the company

has been doing. The information will become public tomorrow. What to do, what

to do? Scramble, hold high-level meetings, make speeches and do more bad


The cast is

impressive, including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto,

Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.

Everybody is very good, but Spacey and Moore stand out. Spacey because his

character takes some turns that Kevin Spacey characters don't usually take.

Moore because she takes her relatively small part and makes a big impression

without grandstanding.


writer-director J.C. Chandor has crafted a surprisingly effective drama. I know

next to nothing about economics, but I was held rapt. The basics are explained,

mostly because higher-ups in the company ask the young guns to explain it to

them. The device works because we believe that the executives are that clueless

about the particulars of their own business. They occupy positions of power and

privilege - other people are paid to work out the details.

There are numerous

instances of powerful individuals pointing out their ignorance and their

character defects. Such behavior may be read as bold and direct, but what

they're really doing is beating other people to the punch. By declaring their

ignorance and flaws, they minimize the chance of being confronted by those

around them. It's a credible tactic, and it's certainly helpful for viewers

like me. Their faux soul-bearing allows Chandor to provide us with a map of

Titanic to keep us oriented.

With its small

group of characters, limited use of music and numerous instances of

speechifying, the film skirts the edge of staginess. But those elements are

appropriate to the situation, and Chandor uses lots of cool-blue footage of

late night New York to keep the movie from folding in on itself. For the most

part, he also does a good job of keeping the melodrama in check. Yes, there are

speeches and dramatic exchanges, but they feel organic to the characters.

Notable iffy

moments. Kevin Spacey's character has a dog. It makes it easy to humanize him,

sure, but Chandor also gets some keenly ironic moments observing the

relationship between the man and his pooch. Then there's the ledge scene, where

one of the men gazes below and says, "It's a long way down." It could be argued

that this is the one moment where the film crosses over into "Oliver Stone" land.

I think the scene works - barely. Given the restraint Chandor shows through the

rest of the film, I kind of got a kick out of the cheese.

Margin Call is a well-crafted economic disaster movie.

It's a low-budget Titanic, with the

financial system as the boat, and the characters as both the ship's crew and

the iceberg. Or something like that. As previously noted, I don't know

diddly-squat about economics.


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