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.