Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2011. Before The Door Pictures, Benaroya Pictures, Washington Square Films, Untitled Entertainment, Rose Pictures. Screenplay by J.C. Chandor. Cinematography by Frank G. DeMarco. Produced by Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto. Music by Nathan Larson. Production Design by John Paino. Costume Design by Caroline Duncan. Film Editing by Pete Beaudreau. Academy Awards 2011. Berlin Film Festival 2011.
The final scene of Working Girl has Melanie Griffith triumphing over adversity by getting an entry-level job as one of the billions of drones occupying offices on Wall Street. It’s hard not to recall that ending with pain while watching the opening of Margin Call, as that triumph is smashed to pieces when a powerful financial company is one of the many Wall Street firms clearing out of the majority of its employees to stay above the economic downturn. The eventual crash is personified with dramatic vigour in this drama by first-time director J.C. Chandor, featuring Zachary Quinto as a low-level account manager who, on the day that his boss Stanley Tucci is fired, is handed a file that his superior had been working on before being let go. Quinto crunches some numbers, solves a formula and realizes that the company is in the most serious trouble it has ever been in; in fact, it is hemorrhaging losses so badly that they have actually been over and done with as a business days ago, and their failure is one that could sink the entire country (if not the world). Emergency meetings are called in the middle of the night, the big boss (Jeremy Irons) is flown in by helicopter while senior analysts Paul Bettany and Kevin Spacey (not as feisty as he was in Working Girl) and higher up officers Simon Baker and Demi Moore scramble to save themselves before even bothering to save the company. The irony is in the outcome, but there’s no point in spoiling that; it is enough to say that the film is a refreshing, sometimes humorous, always invigorating look at the nucleus of an economic meltdown that hits hard without being shrill or judgmental. The characters are all as much the perpetrators as they are the victims, and the atmosphere is pungent with the failures of excess: one actually feels like they have been staying up all night with these people. Performances are all strong, particularly a decidedly oily Irons and, in a lovely and too brief cameo, Mary McDonnell as what is possibly the only sympathetic human being in the entire thing.