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Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00

Tension and Suspense Drive the 'Margin Call'
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: J.C. Chandor
  • Dates: Opens October 21, 2011

Margin Call imagines insiders' actions and reactions when, in 2008, they realized the financial world faced immediate, catastrophic collapse. A fictitious, 107-year-old, international Wall Street firm claims $8 trillion in assets, soon to be unequivocally worthless. This well-written scenario, "inspired by real events," unfolds over 24 hours of tense power plays, confrontations, and loss—emotional as well as monetary.

The sterling cast includes: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and relative newcomers Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley. These charismatic actors, especially Spacey, Irons, Tucci and Moore, command the screen with minimal action. Watch Spacey just sit with his dog, and the weight of the world descends into his face. Listen to Irons directing subordinate Peter to explain the number "as if speaking to a child." Irons' inflections and voice strike terror, as he does doing nothing more than eat—alone—in the skyscraper's upper floor dining room.

Observe Baker in the bathroom shaving, casting sidelong glances at Seth (Badgley) who's trying to regain his composure, choking back sobs. Baker doesn't miss a beat with his razor, a nice metaphor as it scrapes, scrapes, scrapes away. And register Moore's face and posture, silent, contemplating the sands shifting under her. These actors give a master class in performance, making relative inaction breathtaking. And first time, feature film writer/director J.C. Chandor gives each character his and her space and moment.

The eerie sound intensifies the mood, though Chandor also knows when to be quiet on screen, when to pause for emphasis. Equally effective, Frank DeMarco's stylish cinematography contributes to the inhumane atmosphere as cold fluorescent blues and neon greens illuminate, sometimes barely, this insidious, bleak world lacking warmth in colors and interactions.

Margin Call doesn't pull its punches but it does maintain a relatively nonjudgmental approach, even to giving the Spacey character a conscience and appeal. It's no less appalling and infuriating as the opening scene of dismissals sets the stage for what we've endured. At area cinemas.

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