"Margin Call" is a smart thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. The cutthroat story contains a number of proficient performances yet it is never able to connect the audience to the Wall Street investment bank's host of characters as writer/director J.C. Chandor would like it to. The film goes out of its way to over-humanize a group of people that played a major part in our current economic downfall. Characters that can easily be deemed as villains if told from a different perspective leaving that storyline to become a whole other effort the audience must face.
There is a learning curve to "Margin Call" and it doesn't wait around too long for the audience to catch-up. The thriller thrives on forward progress. Centered around a firm that is poised to possibly sell its shares ahead of an unforeseen crisis, the pace of the of 105 minute drama moves briskly. Thankfully the pace never makes the film feel hurried, instead it comes across steadfast on reaching its outcome without losing any impact along the way.
The impact itself comes not so much from the content throughout "Margin Call" but the masterly performances by Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, and Stanley Tucci. Sure the content demands a portion of the audiences's attention and houses some material that could hit close to home for a percentage of viewers but the real payoff comes in the superb deliveries by the talent filled cast. It was a nice surprise to see Paul Bettany back in a dramatic role versus fighting angels or vampires in some apocalyptic future. Kevin Spacey pulls off another compelling performance but his character was a major thorn in my side. His character Sam, is one of the prime examples of how director J.C. Chandor tries to humanize these barons of the financial district. Had the script toned back a bit of the effort to make the audience sympathize with Sam (and other characters) I may have not been pulled out of the suspense so many times. Reversely Zachary Quinto and Paul Bettany's characters come across fairly authentic. Actually, authentic is not the right word, because the entire film feels authentic, their characters I was able to connect with despite having ill feelings towards the general basis of who their characters are. Much of that boils down to the fact their characters are far less humanized. Instead they are mere cogs in a much larger machine who simply feel like pawns in a chess game.
The containment of "Margin Call" also helps to build a sense of tension I didn't expect from a economic drama. Nearly the entire film is shot inside of a office building. This allowed the audience to feel apart of this firm and the detrimental financial decisions they are weighing over the course of a 24-hour period. It also allowed for director J.C. Chandor and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco to work quickly, something that probably weighs into the prompt pace. Most importantly working within the office setting really gave the film and firm a detached feeling it needed.
"Margin Call" is a riveting film that really packs a bunch of tension in a highly-contained film but sadly, it is one I see most of America ignoring. It is a film that will fly right over too many people's intelligence. It is a sad state of affairs when an intelligent thriller comes along and the majority of America will not see it because of the plot or lack of awareness. This is a film I can imagine people complaining there is too much talking. Imagine that, they do make movies that are not completely comprised of explosions, sexy models and/or gigantic mechanical robots. Despite my negative outlook on the general audiences of America, "Margin Call" is a smart thriller that deserves a look and more attention than I bargain it will receive.