Margin Call Review
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In case you haven’t noticed, our country is in the middle of a pretty nasty recession. And if the constant news reports weren’t enough to make you feel depressed about the country’s grim financial situation, Hollywood would like to help out. In recent years, we’ve seen features like The Company Men and documentaries like Inside Job, which show both the cause and effects of the financial crisis. While they’re quite often downers, some of these movies are eye-opening or heartfelt. Others, however, simply seem to be beating a dead horse—like first-time writer/director J. C. Chandor’s star-studded drama, Margin Call.

As the financial industry begins to slump in 2008, a Wall Street investment firm is forced to lay off most of its staff. As the remaining few go out and celebrate, though, one young risk analyst remains in the office, examining figures that predict worse things to come.

In analyzing data left behind by his now-unemployed boss, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) discovers that the firm could be heading for a collapse, with potential losses more than the firm’s worth. When he reveals his findings to the firm’s executives, they beginning calling a series of emergency, middle-of-the-night meetings, making decisions that will affect not only the firm but the entire market.

Margin Call is certainly a timely film, but that doesn’t make it an interesting—or even necessary—film. We’ve heard it all before: decades of greed, irresponsibility, and downright negligence led to the sudden collapse. And, unfortunately, Margin Call adds nothing new to the same old story, apart from a noteworthy (though mostly underused) cast.

Though it claims to be a thriller, there’s nothing particularly thrilling about it. When Peter’s former boss, Eric (Stanely Tucci), first hands over the all-important files, it seems as though the film’s heading in an exciting direction—something involving backstabbing or cover-ups or some sort of maliciousness. Perhaps people will be in some kind of grave physical danger. Instead, it’s just a case of carelessness and bad decisions, resulting in a bunch of executives sitting around a conference table, trying to figure out what to do about the situation.

The actual details of the story, meanwhile, are fuzzy. It isn’t until about halfway through the film that anyone even attempts to explain the situation in any kind of detail—and, even then, it’s done quickly, using so much financial jargon that you’d need an economics degree to understand most of it. And when you don’t understand it, it’s pretty hard to care about it.

The characters don’t help, either. Though the big-name cast is definitely impressive, it’s still difficult to care about any of their characters—except maybe Kevin Spacey’s Sam, a 34-year company man, who does his best to keep his team positive though he’s really more concerned about his dog’s terminal illness. But even Sam is a pretty bland character. Everyone else is just there for the paycheck—even Peter, who turned his back on rocket science for a better income.

In the end, Margin Call feels like it could have been a CNBC dramatization—albeit one with an all-star cast. It’s dry and unoriginal and completely forgettable. If you really want to watch an eye-opening look at the financial crisis, I recommend renting the documentary Inside Job instead.

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