We were even less enthusiastic about Margin Call than The Rum Diary, not really feeling in the mood to have a bunch of people who know nothing about high finance lecture us on the evils of high finance, but The Boy’s grandfather recommended it (mostly on the strength of the acting). The Boy likes to tell people why their opinions are wrong, so he figured there’d be at least that going for it.
We didn’t hate it, but on reflection it does sort of seem exactly like what we thought: People who don’t understand high finance trying to lecture on the evils of high finance. But there’s a kind of honesty there: They don’t try to demonize everyone involved which is good, but at the price of there being no really strong moral dilemma.
Basically, the story is that a finance company has found that the commodities (mortgage-backed securities) it’s trading are worthless, and therefore must figure out how to save itself. The story trickles up from a recently fired risk assessor (Stanley Tucci) to a young ex-rocket scientist (Zachary Quinto, who also has a producer credit) and his younger, money obssessed buddy (Penn Badgley), their boss (Paul Bettany), his boss (Kevin Spacey), his boss (Simon Baker) and his boss, the owner of the company (Jeremy Irons). Also, Demi Moore, who seems to be above Spacey but maybe catty-corner to him.
And this is after three layers between the top and the bottom have been eliminated in a big layoff.
The movie gets away with not understanding what’s going on by having most of its characters not understand either. (Quinto and Tucci’s characters are really the only ones who get it, and most of the characters aren’t even interested. This may be true.)
So, I liked the acting, sure. And I thought the characters were well developed, although The Boy disagrees, finding only Bettany’s character of interest. The dramatic tension boils down to will they or won’t they dump all this worthless stuff on the market, thus ushering in financial disaster. Which characters will go along and which will follow their consciences?
The narrative really, really wants Kevin Spacey be the good guy, but Jeremy Irons—who’s pretty clearly meant to be villainous—makes the best points.
Worst of all, the movie uses a sledgehammer of a metaphor, in the form of Spacey’s character’s dying dog, whom Spacey has been spending tons of money and emotional capital on, but doesn’t have the heart to put down. Sheesh.
The Boy was particularly uninterested, but he was 12-ish when the crash occurred and so he didn’t have the necessary baggage to understand what the whole impact of everything was. I did, but I was far from bowled over.