‘Margin Call’ (2011) Blu-Ray Review

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Margin Call
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Written by J.C. Chandor
2011, USA

It’s taken a while – almost four years by my calendar – but eventually the dire progenitors of the age of austerity seem to have finally percolated into the emissions of the dream factory. Whilst the likes of The Company Men, Up In The Air and even Horrible Bosses offer obtuse takes on the slow disintegration of the current financial ideology, zeroing in the individual symptoms rather than the brooding cancer at the core, after the Oscar success of Inside Job the path seems clear for a fictional tale on the 2008 commercial devastation foisted on the world by the 1% and their ambitious acolytes. I’ve always found this cabalistic world immensely fascinating, having worked at one of these firms for a few years back in the noughties any audit of the seductive world of elite commerce is destined to broker my interest, but even before that experiment I was always beguiled by the cinematic examinations of these ludicrous buttresses to our alleged civilisation in the likes of Wall Street, Boiler Room, American Psycho, The Insider and personal favourites Primer and Rollover, at the risk of punting out into tinfoil hat territory I’m more than a little surprised at the paucity of movies that illuminate this enormously powerful, intrinsically embedded pushers of zeroes and ones that would seem to offer so many qualities that are attuned to the silver screen – glamour, power, wealth and hubris. As the Eurozone vacillates, as the BRIC’s swagger, here’s an autopsy of a source, is Margin Call junk bond worthless or Triple AAA+ investment grade product? Let’s find out….

Charting a turbulent 24 hours in the life of a Wall Street investment firm Margin Call begins with a chilling cull of junior traders and some venerable senior analysts, delivered in the Orwellian doublespeak of 21st century capitalism the assassins come with smiles and rationalised portfolios, conducting the cordial bloodshed with the ruthless efficiency of an Einsatzgruppen liquidation squad. Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and his colleague Seth (Penn Badgley) keep their heads down and survive the carnage whilst their mentor Eric (the always interesting Stanley Tucci) finds his twenty-five years of service worth nothing in the face of the imperious, truculent and unrelenting march of commerce. Escorting his former boss to the elevators Eric hands a datastick to Peter and urges him to finish off the project he was working on and warns him to ‘be careful’, an unusual breach of etiquette where a single shard of human concern triggers alarm bells in his protegé’s curious mind. After reviewing and accentuating the material Peter makes a chilling discovery – the firm is stretched to breaking point due to its embrace of the hugely profitable but poisonous subprime derivatives, if they cannot reconcile their disastrous positions before the Street detects their Achilles heel the 107 year old corporation will fall. Turning to their trading floor idol Will (Paul Bettany) Peter disseminates the gloom, and he in turn summons Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey, exemplary) back to the office to formulate a disaster recovery plan. Soon the highest echelons of the firm are en route to assess the crisis, including senior risk department head Sarah Robinson (Demi Moore) and the regally supercilious CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) who formulates a plan – and the world will never be the same again…

The New Yorker claims that Margin Call is the greatest Wall Street film ever made, whilst such a claim is as inflated as a CEO’s exorbitant compensation package this is a taut, arresting and accomplished drama, with an aggregation of fine performances across its portfolio of thespians old and new. It’s shareholder strength is in portraying the current bete noir – the investment banker and its ancillaries – as flawed human beings, both empathic and distasteful, trapped in a commercial prism dictated by the vacant yet powerful trappings of consonant capitalism. Debut director J.C. Chandor suffers a little from a condition I’m calling firstfilmitius with some unnecessary visual flourishes and tinkering with focal planes, but for the most part this is a handsomely mounted, mostly consuming drama which gives his prestigious cast the chance to trade dialogue and character, as they nervously prowl their aseptic paddocks as the potential crisis intensifies. The film builds an impressive, time-bound, remorseless momentum that mirrors the capricious nature of these traders activities, it’s quite the deal to make palatable the arcane and mysterious drifts of these incomprehensible financial instruments which are quite rightly regulated to MacGuffin territory.

We rarely leave the firms vacant offices, observing the outside world as a petulant toddler would examine the alien struggles of his extempore ant farm, it’s a cool, precocious and temperate realm where firings and sacrifices are accepted with a resigned and accepted neutrality. There are shades of Glengarry Glen Ross in the esoteric language and clipped dialogue repetitions that are worthy of Mamet at his pre 9/11 best, albeit diluted to a less arch and mannered profligacy, and Kevin Spacey hasn’t been this good in a decade with his resigned and ethically conflicted Sararīman a curious ancillary to his bourgeois rejection in American Beauty, but it’s Jeremy Irons predatory strutting as a thinly veiled xerox of Lehman Brothers CEO (John Tuld = Richard Fuld) who superbly closes the deal, he gets the best speech at the close of the film that gilds the entire investment. Although the film fizzles out rather than ending with a boom, perhaps minuting that although some things may change they always remain the same, Margin Call is equity expenditure that is worthy of your time;

  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 12 Nov 2012
  • Run Time: 107 minutes

Special Features:

  • Revolving Door: Making Margin Call
  • Deleted scenes
  • Deleted scenes with commentary
  • Missed Calls: Moments with cast and crew
  • From the Deck: Photo gallery

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