Thursday, March 7, 2013

Movie Review: Margin Call

"So you think we might have put a few people out of business today. That its all for naught. You've been doing that everyday for almost forty years Sam. And if this is all for naught then so is everything out there. Its just money; its made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don't have to kill each other just to get something to eat. It's not wrong. And it's certainly no different today than its ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, 37, 57, 84, 1901, 07, 29, 1937, 1974, 1987-Jesus, didn't that fuck up me up good-92, 97, 2000 and whatever we want to call this. It's all just the same thing over and over; we can't help ourselves. And you and I can't control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it. We just react. And we make a lot money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the side of the road if we get it wrong. And there have always been and there always will be the same percentage of winners and losers. Happy foxes and sad sacks. Fat cats and starving dogs in this world. Yeah, there may be more of us today than there's ever been. But the percentages-they stay exactly the same."

I'm not sure how I felt/feel after watching Margin Call.  Was I outraged by the avarice of Wall Street? No. I'd read The Big Short before watching this movie, and thats where the curtain was pulled away and I was infuriated by the stupidity of Wall Street.  

Margin Call, in a way, disappointed me.  I wanted it to dig deeper than it did.  The characters spoke in vague generalizations, issues were hinted at, but not spoken about.  I felt like the director dumbed the movie down for the audience.  Sure, I didn't expect this movie to go into extreme depth about subprime mortgage loans and credit default swaps, but I expected quite a bit more depth than was given.  I honestly do not know how a viewer, with no previous knowledge, could really actually understand what the hell was going on in this movie.  Aside from three, brilliant soliloquies, the dialog was relatively wooden.

However, the acting and entire cast was first rate.  Jeremy Irons was a perfect decision for the CEO.  He excels at playing distinguished but smarmy characters.  His best scene involves a speech delivered while he is eating.  While he talks you can hear him chewing and the clinking of his silverware as he explains in a cavalier way how this is just the way things go.  It's a great speech and ironic how he talks about how small of parts they play in the giant machine when you consider the great lengths he went to throughout the movie to secure his company's financial security.

The best character in the movie is played by Paul Bettany, who I have never not liked in a role.  He has been around long enough to see it all, but not long enough to be unaffected by it.  He's powerful, a millionaire, loves the life his job affords him, and accepts it without apologizing.  He is the bridge in the movie between the two young, naive analysts and the higher executives. He delivers the merciless truth to the wide eyed kids and knows exactly what to say and who to say it to.

This is far from a perfect movie, but its a movie worth watching.  It's interesting that its point seems to be that the financial system is meaningless, that its just numbers on a screen, and that many people give up lives where they actually build something tangible in order to chase money.  But, as the characters say on more than one occasion, they don't really have a choice.

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