Margin Call – 2011
Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Mary McDonnell, Aasif Mandvi
What can one say when a movie starts off by laying off 86% of a floor and that is seen as a minor issue compared to what tragedy is about to ensue? Margin Call is an example of a Hollywood film trying to exorcise the demons of the country as if it has no connection to the folks with the pitchforks. It’s kind of a We Are The World for those who suffer from the excesses of the 1%, made by people who are not part of the 99%. The only problem is that not one of the people affected by the greed so acutely exhibited in this story will profit one bit from viewing a facsimile of how it happened. Quinto and his 2 friends at Behind the Door pictures made this movie, seemingly as a labor of love. They, in turn, are supported by Roadside Attractions, who are supported by LionsGate Entertainment. Keep going up the chain, and you find out real quick how “Independent” films that star this many names are.
There is a lot of gnashing of teeth in this film. This is to imply that there are little people in these films who are asked to do things against their conscience to prop up others who aren’t so nice. The people I notice while watching the films are the cleaning crew, who get to empty the trash, turn in the recycle bins and dust off the desktops, keyboards and monitors no matter who is renting the building.
One such occasion is in an elevator ride, between Demi Moore and Simon Baker’s characters. They start discussing what’s going on, give a custodial staff woman a cursory look, as she is between them, and then begin to speak in an incredibly dense code. She gets off of the floor, and the look on her face is representative of the kind of people who are truly effected by this film. Her work will remain the same, but her benefits will shrink, as will her hours. The upper crust, supported by the taxes she, you and I pay, will always be protected by the people she elects, based on the message of HOPE.
“The party’s over as of this morning,” says Kevin Spacey’s character, the morning of the big dump. I won’t wast words explaining it to you, but if you understand anything about credit default swaps, trading on assets that exceed your real holdings, and general greed, you will get the point of the film.
The main message of the film: there are good men, portrayed by Quinto, Badgley, Bettany and Spacey, who have to do bad things to better people in order to keep the baddest people (Irons, Baker, Moore) rich. Spacey solemnly nurses a sick dog during the early part of the film. You don’t have to wonder what will happen.
Films like this one don’t register with me. Maybe it’s because I pay my bills routinely, and insure myself from the prospect of an untimely death so my wife and kids will not have to foot the bill of my necessary debt to the people portrayed in this movie. Seeing a film like this doesn’t change any of this for me. I will still pay my bills, and taxes that will support their bad decisions and helicopter rides into work. I don’t care to know the names of any of the characters. It does not assuage my burden in the slightest to think of any of these characters as real people. If I did that, I learn nothing from life.
“It wasn’t brains that got me here, I assure you that,” says Irons character, midway through the film. This is, of course, to imply that he is fully aware that it is his lack of conscience, and willingness to throw innocent people under a mountain of the debt created by his bad decisions that got and keeps him there.
That said, the film is well acted and presented in a concise, logical way. Spacey is really good at what he does, and the rest of them almost as good. Still, like a lap dance given to a guy with a few $20’s and a lot of $1’s, doesn’t give one any real satisfaction of having connected with another human, there is just no enjoyment in investing good money to watch how all the rest of it will continue to go bad.
(*** out of *****)