Saturday, November 5, 2011

Margin Call (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Margin Call

For those that have had enough Halloween diversion and want to regenerate their fiscal anger into a rechargeable battery, there is the new film "Margin Call," which centers on the 2008 financial crisis. Most everyone in the film is a dry piece of toast, but keep in mind that you wouldn't expect these suits to be bubbling over with warmth anyway. The characters are all heart. The entire cast is likely to turn Don Rickles into Ferdinand the Bull but, after all, this really happened. It's not a cartoon.
The plot is relatively simple. Investor  Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is working on his computer and is suddenly purged. Fear grips the third floor of the office. Dale had been working on an analysis that essentially sees catastrophe for the banking investment industry. Of all the characters, I suppose I feel the most for Mr. Dale. He's not mean spirited or manipulative. He doesn't appear to delight in others' misfortune. He is just a brainiac working in risk management who never thought the meat-eaters would be after him. 
Kevin Spacey stars once again as a Brooks Brothers tailored exec, Sam Rogers.  Yes, we expect a knowing look and perhaps a little smirk that some worker bees have it coming, and that  these guys are better than the rest, being salesmen until the end. But Spacey is no generic Wall Street Looney Toon. He is both more human and more inhuman here than in some of his other roles. When people are leaving their offices in droves, we see him cry, not over his employees, but his dog.
Although the film echoes others like "Casino Jack" and "Company Men", its step by step sequential narrative and limited camera-shots recall a play filmed for the screen or some of the docudrama work of Paul Greengrass. Nothing is left for interpretation. These guys have burnt bacon in place of empathy and you know it.         
Standouts in the film are Penn Badgley and Zachary Quinto as two young arrogant upstarts in the firm. Their dialogue is invariably about who makes the most money. These two are characters from Brett Easton Ellis on steroids. In a volatile  world of finance money is a the drug of choice.
There is also Jeremy Irons as the head boss John Tuld. Irons is like the Alistair Cooke of Capitalism: 
"It's always been the same, they're may be more people but the percentage never changes. There are winners and there are losers."
Tuld is as close to a real life Grinch as you'll ever see on screen. As his firm downsizes, he patiently resumes dining.
Perhaps the most haunting thing about  "Margin Call" is not an image or a scene but a sound, the last remaining  sound of Sam Rogers struggling, laboriously, digging a hole with a shovel. It is a sad, hard melancholy sound of lost hope and it stays with you long after the endless portable boxes that are depicted in the film fade   away.  

Write Ian at

No comments: