MOVIE RATING: 5 stars (A)
Just like the 2008 stock market crash, Margin Call (2011) seemingly came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me. When I first saw the trailer, this movie got on my radar and I anxiously awaited it’s release. To my surprise, it ended up surpassing all of my other highly anticipated films from the Fall of 2011. This is simply one of the best films of 2011…or any year.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, Margin Call is a stunning feature film debut. Chandor’s screenplay is so sharply and intelligently written, that I immediately compared this film to Oscar winning scribe Aaron Sorkin’s super smart The Social Network (2010). This movie is just as current, as relevant, and as snappy as that highly regarded film. I love both movies. They’re both perfect in my eyes. Margin Call is the better “sequel” to the classic financial thriller Wall Street (1987). While I really like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), Margin Call is a much better look at the current mindset of the moneymakers in today’s stock market, as well as our overall culture.
For many people, this movie won’t appeal to them. It demands you to use your brain and look at the darker realities and motivations of investment banks and the people who work in that world. But for those willing to go on the Margin Call ride, and escape into it’s point of view, it’s a real thriller. I was on the edge of my seat the first time I saw the movie. It just zipped along and kept me fascinated to see what would happen next, even though I intuitively knew where it was gonna ultimately go. But the ensemble cast is so richly fleshed out in each of their roles, that all of the little details of this film had me. Having watched the movie 4 or 5 times now, I keep going back to it over and over because it holds my attention each time.
Ensemble movies like Margin Call live or die with the chemistry and performances of their cast. Fortunately, Chandor has picked a brilliant cast that really came through here. It could be easy for each of these great actors to get lost in the overall story, but each and every single one of them sizzles in their few minutes on screen. There’s not really a single protagonist or a single antagonist in this movie. And that’s the whole point of the story. It’s not black & white. One could argue that Kevin Spacey is the lead actor, but the same argument could be applied to Zachary Quinto. The story is told through the eyes of both, and they both bring some of their best work to it. Supporting actors Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci each bring fantastic supporting performances, embodying their characters perfectly in my mind. To a degree, they’re all criminals and victims in the financial mess that they’ve created and participated in. And aren’t we all really the same, in our own lives? The cause and cure of our successes and failures in life?
The production values in Margin Call far outweigh the reported $3.4 million budget that it was made for. Chandor assembled a fantastic team that really brought their A-game to this project. Shot mostly on a Red One digital cinema camera, along with some footage shot on a Canon 5D and 35mm film, the cinematography by Frank G. DeMarco is beautifully saturated, well composed, and presents New York City as well as any film before it. I highly recommend you watch this movie on blu-ray to fully appreciate it.
While the production design by John Paino might get overlooked, every detail of this claustrophobic movie is well executed. Supposedly, the interior building scenes were all shot on a single floor of this building, so the production design team did a great job reallocating space to serve multiple functions.
Two of the most important aspects of this film are the music and the editing. They go hand in hand, like on most movies. Editor Pete Beaudreau cut this feature down to the bone, leaving just enough material to tell the story in an interesting way, but not too much to weigh it down. The tone and pace are spot on. The original music score by Nathan Larson is reminiscent of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ superb work on The Social Network. It has a buzzing, clicking and edgy beat to it, helping push forward the dialogue and ideas presented by the cast. It really brings an emotional core to the film that might not otherwise come through. It’s a subtle emotional core, but there nonetheless. I also really enjoyed the vocal piece “Wolves” by Phosphorescent. It leant the perfect tone to the scene where actor Zachary Quinto discovers the problem with the complex financial equation.
At its core, Margin Call is a small, handcrafted indie film catered to a niche audience. It does it’s job perfectly. And if you’re willing to get into this story and relate to the characters, I think you’ll find the payoff that we all look for from our investments in movies.
Check out details on this film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.