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Margin Call (2011)

DVD Released: 12/20/2011

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/5/201

In today's world, how do most people get their information? That's actually a rhetorical question, as I don't know the answer, but I would say that the internet is a pretty good answer, as we've all become reliant on this digital tool to let us know what's going on in the world. But, when it comes to getting a more detailed look at certain subjects, I've always found movies to be very helpful. Be it a documentary or a docudrama, a film can often provide a concise, yet in-depth analysis of a subject without me having to do a lot of legwork. (That is, of course, assuming that the movie is telling the truth.) Margin Call promises to be that kind of film, but when a movie like this is vague on its own subject, it's not a good sign.

Margin Call takes place at a Manhattan financial firm. As the story opens, it is late in the day and risk management officer Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is told that he and a portion of the work force are being let go. As Dale is escorted from the building, he hands a flash drive to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). After everyone leaves for the day, Peter begins to analyze the date on the drive and sees a worrisome pattern. He calls his boss, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), and his colleague, Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), who return to the office to hear Peter's story. Will, in turn, calls his supervisor, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who also returns to the office. Now the middle of the night, Sam listens to Peter's explanation of how the firm is on the brink of ruin and he calls an emergency meeting. He also orders that Eric be found so that more information can be gathered on what he knew. As the night turns to morning, more and more executives are brought in to hear the bad news and form a strategy.

Writer/Director J.C. Chandor has made some interesting choices with Margin Call. This is not a documentary, but it's almost made like one, as we are plopped down in this office in the late afternoon and must try to absorb what is going on. The movie doesn't take place in real time, but it comes close, as it condenses a period of a few hours into its running time to show how the characters deal with the situation. And yet, the audience is always on the outside looking in. The exact nature of the crisis is never spelled out in true layman's terms and there is very little character development. What we learn about each person comes through intermittent dialogue.

The DVD box claims that the movie takes place in the "early stages of the 2008 financial crisis". But, we don't get that in this movie. I would love to see a movie which explains the current economic climate in detail, but Margin Call is not that film. I was able to gather that the firm's problems stemmed from risky mortgages, but we get no further details on the hows and whys (other than the fact that someone hoped to make a lot of money). And, in the end, it's incredibly vague as to how this event will cripple the financial world.

Thus, as an educational piece, Margin Call fails, so we are simply left with the story at hand. Here, the movie has a little more success, but only because Chandor is able to tap into our expectations. Margin Call is one of those movies which would have no effect a person who had never seen another movie. But, we have, and as the night wears on, there is a palpable sense that someone is going to have to die because of what has happened. Also, some characters which appear to be evil reveal their true nature. However, this is the only source of tension in the film, as, again, we don't really know what is happening, and little is done to make us care if these people lose their jobs.

Thus, Margin Call is truly a mixed bag. Along with the names listed above, the cast boasts Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, and Simon Baker, so Chandor was able to assemble a stellar cast. But, his decision to do a modified verite approach means that we trapped in offices and boardrooms with these actors and the movie feels very redundant after a short while. The sense of tension aside, Margin Call is actually quite boring, as Chandor's approach doesn't draw the viewer in. I've always found the world of high finance to be a bit confusing and Margin Call did nothing to change that.

Margin Call does do a good job of perpetuating the elitist persona of Wall Street workers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source material. Overall, the movie has a slightly dark look (it is nighttime for most of the film), but the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. Colors look natural and the picture is never soft. Slight artifacting is evident, but not distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a low-key drama, we don't get many dynamic audio effects here. Stereo effects are stable and display off-screen sounds. Music cues bring the surround speakers into play, as does a bar scene.

The Margin Call DVD contains a selection of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director J.C. Chandor and Producer Neal Dodson. The DVD contains two DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary. One of these is interesting, as it's one of the few scenes which takes place outside of the office. "Revolving Door: Making Margin Call" (6 minutes) contains interviews with Chandor and the cast, who discuss their reactions to the script and their approach to the material. "Missed Calls: Moments with Cast & Crew" is a 1-minute reel of on-set shenanigans. "From the Deck" is a photo gallery.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long