Thursday, January 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Margin Call (2011) ****

R, 107 min.
Director/Writer: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi, Mary McDonnell

Watching a movie like “Margin Call”, you might fall under the illusion that you now have the slightest understanding of Wall Street, but I’m more inclined to think that not even Wall Street knows what the hell they’re doing. And, somehow they still get away with it. Why? Cause we think it’s all above us. It’s all above them too, but their advantage is that they know what we think.

I’m not sure any of that gives you any solid impression of just what a great thriller “Margin Call” makes out of a bunch of people who know they’re going to lose their jobs losing their jobs, but it’s good. There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie where a big New York financial firm has called in the head honcho to determine what to do about a phenomenal mistake that really was perpetrated by real Wall Street financial institutions, although it’s fictionalized here. In that scene, Jeremy Irons plays the big CEO. When it comes to the point where someone finally comes out and says, “the shit has hit the fan” more or less, he makes a quick hand gesture. It’s quick and not directed at anyone or thing in particular. This is the only frustration we will see from this character. This is brilliance in performance.

In fact, the entire cast is rather brilliant. They’re given a situation that very few people really understand and make it gripping. The actors are given a bunch of financial mumbo jumbo, and they give us the impression that not only do they understand it, but also we do when we don’t. I think this is how Wall Street sells us on what they do as well. Admittedly, I think these characters ask each other to explain it in plain English a little more than actual traders do, but that doesn’t mean the traders understand it without it being stated in plain English.

It’s funny I keep seeming to get off point here about the excellence of this movie, because what has happened in our country (and is beginning to happen in others) is such a dupe show. Yet that’s what this movie illustrates so well, how universally we were all duped by how this financial system is supposed to work. Hell, the dupers even duped themselves. I know I didn’t express it very well, but this is one of the best movies of the year.

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