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October 1, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Margin Call

Directed by J.C. Chandor

The recent batch of “financial thrillers” inspired by the banking crisis haven’t been of a particularly high calibre. Too many seek to provide elaborate detail about the workings of financial markets, as opposed to focusing on how these affect ordinary people. Thankfully J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call sidesteps the tedious complexities and crafts an intricate human drama out of the murky world of investment banking.

Although inspired by the events of the Global Financial Crisis, Margin Call is a fictional representation of how the executives of
an investment firm desperately try to save their company from the looming threat of bankruptcy. However, even in what appear to be the firm’s dying hours everybody is manoeuvring to protect their own interests through deception and manipulation. Its moral quandaries are myriad and complex, pointing out how the selfishness of those involved threatens everybody around them, but also illustrating how that this is a fundamentally human flaw. It’s a pity then that some plot strands are relatively underdeveloped, as characters move in and out focus for no discernible reason.

With a cast of Hollywood heavyweights, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the acting is uniformly excellent. Everybody contributes exactly what is necessary, including Irons as the unflappable CEO unconcerned by the consequences of his actions and Tucci as the distraught former employee. However, the performance that lingers, and provides the film’s most probing moral questions, is that of Spacey. His performance invites empathy and understanding without forcing us to condone his questionable decisions.

Complementing the acting, Chandor’s direction presents us with a world that’s opulent, but has had any glamour stripped away. The film is dominated by hollow spaces and the whine of computers spewing out streams of meaningless financial data. Chandor’s cinematography effectively confines us within this vapid world and highlights its isolation from the streets down below. It’s not a particularly innovative approach, but its exquisite crafting makes Margin Call a genre-piece that should interest anyone looking for a human take on the oft-derided world of finance.

The Verdict: 4/5

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