Kander, Ebb, and sparkle-adorned Liza Minelli weren't the first or last ones to talk about that clinking clanking sound of the thing that makes the world go around. These days, of course, money is all people want to talk about (particularly those camped out at city halls all across the country in the various "Occupy-Fill in City Name Here" protests). Among the ever-growing selection of shocking and informative films about recent American economics comes Margin Call, whose perspective is valuable--even though it's as exciting as watching paint dry.
Described as a thriller, the film focuses on an investment firm in 2008 whose actions caused the bottom to drop out of our economy. Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), the head of risk management, gets canned. Later that day, a member of his team named Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) discovers what his boss knew--his firm was on the brink of extinction if they didn't get rid of their assets. Unfortunately, doing so would murder the market, kill their company, and obliterate the good ole days in the USA. When he discovers this, the company heads engage in an overnight power struggle. Interesting, yes. But "thriller?" There really is no truth in advertising anymore.
I always find it a curious choice when filmmakers create a fictional film when they could be making a documentary (or you could be watching one that already exists--in this case, like Academy Award winner Inside Job). The question then becomes was it worth watching based on the fictionalized characterizations and situations. Here, writer/director J.C. Chandor takes the high road and avoids making anyone out to be the devil incarnate. I give him credit for allowing us to be a fly on the wall at this critical moment, presenting us with what appears to be an unbiased perspective on some human beings that just happened to mess up on a massive scale. When considering the state of things today, I never think about how one of those guys might have had to put his dog to sleep on the same day his company makes history. The only thing I wrestled with was "Do I care?"
For instance, I have heard the stories about these Wall Street boneheads spending excessive amounts of this dirty money on coke and hookers. Just because Paul Bettany does that in this film and he doesn't seem like that bad a guy doesn't mean that it changes my perspective. Penn Badgely crying in a bathroom doesn't evoke my sympathy. Demi Moore and Tucci grimly theorizing about her severance package makes me feel about as warm and fuzzy as a dead fish. It doesn't help that the majority of the film is just boardroom chatter, saving all the "genuine" human interaction for the last third of the film. If Chandor's purpose was just to show that these were just regular humans that did a terrible, terrible thing, he succeeded. He reveals very little about their motivation aside from what we already know from reading newspapers, which leads me to ultimately conclude that in this case, the only story worth paying attention to is the real one.