Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“Margin Call” is an ensemble drama that treats the 2008 financial meltdown as a race-against-time thriller. Written and directed by newcomer J. C. Chandor, the movie takes you behind the hermetic glass sheathing of a prominent Manhattan investment firm. There you’re permitted to eavesdrop on a group of gray-suited Masters of the Universe as they plot to save their collective ass. The crux of their plan? To screw over everyone else. Of course, this is devilish business, yet “Margin Call” is notable for the almost Renoiresque generosity it extends to its characters. It gives the movie a pleasingly paradoxical edge, for the deeper you descend into the Machiavellian workings of the firm the more you identify with its constituents. They have families, consciences, personalities, dogs. More importantly, they have bosses. And these bosses have bosses. This is a vision of finance as a Russian-doll hierarchy of nested pressures and influences, in which even the most odious blackguard is rendered sympathetic via the hectoring of an unscrupulous overlord. At the top of this hierarchy sits John Tuld; he’s played with looming ominousness by a vampiric Jeremy Irons. Tuld alone has no boss. When beckoned, he literally descends from the heavens like the evil Emperor at the start of the third “Star Wars” film, his quasi-mullet haircut offering indisputable proof that, like the honey badger, he just don’t give a shit. Visually, “Margin Call” is not much to speak of, but its tone and pace are impressively controlled: like the people it depicts, the movie registers as both steely and enervated. There are a few bad scenes, scenes in which characters are made to speechify in ways meant to shrink-wrap the movie’s themes, but I found them easy to overlook.
It’s tough to do movies about finance since the thing itself is so abstract. It is also incredibly easy to get the basics wrong. When I was in finance I marveled at how news articles about what I thought of as the most straightforward aspects of finance got important basics wrong, And I mean *every* time. It is tough to dramatize what you don’t know, or find hard to follow.
When it comes to movies, then, what usually happens is that some sort of conventional dramatic narrative that has nothing to do with finance is plopped down onto a creaky story line that uses men in suits and yuppies at Bloombergs as backdrop. On my Worst 10 of All Time Movie List is a travesty from the 80s called Rollover, with Kris Kristofferson (??!!) as a global financier type. Most people faintly know “rollover” is a financial term (rolling over a CD) so it was a nice name for a finance movie, and it it served as the pretext for the climax of the film, which had something to do with a world financial crisis prompted by fund rollovers around the world. I faintly recall the ending, in which Kris and his Krowd are running around the office screaming “ITS ROLLING OVER!!” The movie wanted a visual of, say, a tsunami rolling over but all it got was men in suits shouting.
All that said, Margin Call did a better job than others of attempting to integrate the finance into the story. OK, Irons totally overacted, hambone style, and no one but no one at the top of a firm like that is as clueless as Irons was. You don’t climb to the top of one of those places just on big balls. Real estate, maybe, but not a big finance firm.
Journalists are numerically challenged. You rarely see intelligent business news from reporters more comfortable in the politically correct atmosphere of TV and print. In business news, logic actually counts, imagery is less important, and viewers are asked to think instead of react.
Adding it to the queue, tks for pointing it out.
Found it very enjoyable.
True that few movies do finance accurately, but as in everything else it’s really about the personalities. As long as the business logic doesn’t detract from the story, it can be okay.
Agree that Jeremy Irons’ character was the only false note and yet he didn’t ruin it at all. Tucci’s small part was particularly enjoyable, or perhaps he just reminded me of someone I knew.
I dunno about the falsity of Irons’ characterization even. The point one has to bear in mind in order for Irons’ performance to be unobjectionable is that his character may well be acting: acting the fool, to be specific. Does that absolve Irons the actor? Maybe.
Anyway, I agree with everyone that the picture is good on the finance stuff. Where else have we seen stuffing MBS with the ultimatum “fill or kill at 65” or whatever as an otherwise unexplained dramatic trope?
I didn’t mean to imply in my review that I thought Irons was bad. I enjoyed him well enough, hambone though he is. I think the movie needs his big-dick assholery, and perhaps it also needs the little spurt of comedy his presence provides. (I giggled mightily when his helicopter descended from the clouds, striking terror into all his underlings.)
Pingback: “All Is Lost” | Uncouth Reflections