Margin Call is one of those okay movies that mysteriously and undeservedly garners almost uniformly great reviews.
Yes, its first-time director and screenwriter, J.C. Chandor, does indeed elicit excellent performances as he tells the story of the first major trading firm to recognize that the chickens of the financial crisis were coming home to roost. Even Demi Moore is believable as an ice-hearted Wall Street mistress of the universe. And Penn Badgely demonstrates he’ll likely survive his post-Gossip Girl future, holding his own with Jeremy Irons, the firm’s Machiavellian CEO, and Kevin Spacey, its conflicted head trader, as they all set out to offload their worthless mortgage-backed assets on their unsuspecting counterparties. This gang is grimly prepared to crash the world financial system if that’s what they have to do to preserve their firm and their bonuses.
As the action takes place — over a 36-hour period in offices far less luxe than you might expect and suits that look almost shiny in the bad lighting — the characters also offer up justifications for their insanely out-of-whack salaries and their firm’s profits. As much as these ring true and provide food for thought, they’re often over-the-top theatrical posturing. The various meetings, where it’s all inarticulate “fuck mes” and “fuck yous” seem a whole lot more effing likely.
In this world where only money counts, we are also unconvincingly asked to believe that the movie’s hero — the polite kid who points out the imminently approaching storm that all the other more senior risk forecasters have missed — knows nothing about his bosses’ salaries despite waxing his eyebrows, holding a PHD in physics from MIT and taking a Wall Street position because it paid better than rocket science.
In the end, there’s no way a movie with such obvious flaws should be showered with so much praise. See it at home when it comes out on Pay Per View. As long as we’re still paying for the screw-ups of all those Wall Street financiers, we might as well cut back on expensive cinema tickets.