David Denby, writing for New Yorker Magazine has labeled J. C. Chandor’s debut film, Margin Call, “… one of the strongest American films of the year and easily the best Wall Street movie ever made.” High praise indeed from one of the most widely read and esteemed film critics. Yet this film opened today in what was called a ‘limited release’.
That would mean that this film is opening in just 17 states, and here in Florida, the film is playing in just one theater, in the entire state, in a town called Maitland, somewhere northeast of Orlando. Google says it is 138 miles from my home. With gas prices hovering around 3.50 a gallon, driving that far and back to see the film would add about $50 to the cost of my ticket.
Think about that – just one theater in the entire state of Florida and playing in just 17 states. Well, the good news is that the film is quite good. The bad news is you might have to wait awhile to see it. Unless you have ‘on-demand’ via your cable provider.
I think the producers are going to have more copies of the film made and distributed. On the other hand. maybe folks won’t be all that interested in seeing what happened to their retirement nest eggs, which vanished overnight in some cases. But I won’t spend any more time discussing the harsh realities stemming from the events of the market crash in 2008, because we all know or knew someone, or we were/are actually victims ourselves. So let’s not talk about what happened in real life, instead let’s talk about the film.
I think the best way to discuss the film is to describe some of the performances by the actors, and even more importantly to describe what it was like to watch the film. Shortly after the film begins we are told that 80% of the traders and their support staffs, in an unnamed financial services firm, are going to be let go that day. Grim and stony-faced HR folks march in and set up in a conference room. People are asked to come in. They’re given the bad news, along with the size and the amounts of their severance packages, and this gentleman – they point to a security person – will escort you to your office where you will leave everything as is taking only your personal belongings. Which leads to the long and cruel walk to the elevators with your boxed possessions. This is the beginning of the film, and from there – it only gets worse.
I personally have seen what I just described in person – but when you watch it in Margin Call, from the safety of your own den, living room, or theater seat, you will be thankful that you are safely distanced from the what you are watching. Then again you may not be safe at all. But while watching, I felt as if I dare not blink or close my eyes – lest I miss something.
Stanley Tucci as Eric Dale, is one of the first to go. He’s a sympathetic figure as a mid-level manager handling risk assessment. He receives his bad news with a certain stoicism, but you know from the gravitas of his facial expressions that this is serious stuff for him. He’s been in the business 19 years. When he hits the street and stops for a moment to call home – he finds that the cell phone (provided by the firm) no longer works.
They had told him as much upstairs – no computer access, no emails, no phones – but he had forgotten. It was a startling and electrifying change of mood, when he hurled his phone to the sidewalk in frustration – all the more remarkable because of his previously shown calmness and strength when he was told to pack up and leave.
Dale’s boss, Will Emerson (played by Paul Bettany) has survived. We aren’t quite sure of what he does, but he was Dale’s boss, and now two of the younger risk analysts that reported to Dale now report to him. He makes big bucks, drives an Aston-Martin, and wears a rich navy blue suit. As portrayed by Bettany, he comes off as a guy who likes living on the edge, someone who never met a party he wouldn’t go to, and he was something of a player who later confesses that he made 2.5 million in the previous year. And out of that he spent more than 75K on hookers and drinking. Yet Bettany (below) gives him a decency that makes you respect him if not actually like him.