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Ten Words or Less Review: Market Crash:  The Movie!

A typical disaster movie kicks off with a group of scientist suddenly discovering some Earth shattering piece of data which will forever change the world for the worse.  An asteroid is on a collision course for the planet, a mega storm is forming which will freeze us in a block of ice, the sun is about to bake us alive, penguins are mating at an unstoppable rate and threaten to over take humanity as the dominate species.  Portentous statements fly across the room, ominous projections are made about how many people will perish, politicians meet around big tables, the President speaks to the nation in a solemn tone, Bruce Willis flys off to space with a drill bit to save us!  This type of movie is thick with silliness and its tongue isn’t just in cheek, it stabs right through it.  The ironic thing is, scenarios like these aren’t always so far fetched. Margin Call is a small scale dramatization of 2008’s economic meltdown, a real life disaster of epic proportions.  Like a disaster movie, a smart person makes an alarming discovery, superiors are informed, calculated decisions are made as people talk around large tables, lives are then destroyed.  This time though there are no explosions, recognizable landmarks don’t come crashing down in an orgy of CGI mayhem and Bruce Willis and his drill bit have to stand by idly to wait and see if they have a job in the morning.

The economic downturn of 2008 is something the world is still living through now and will continue to struggle with for the foreseeable future.  Margin Call takes place at an unnamed investment firm shortly before the roof caves in.  On a morning where layoffs are taking place, a departing supervisor (Stanley Tucci) hands off a troubling piece of information to one of his unfired subordinates (Zachary Quinto) as he walks out the door. After looking through it, subordinate discovers that the economic model which the company’s fortunes have been resting upon is about to collapse, taking the entire company, and much more, with it.  It’s speculative drama but believable enough in style and execution to accept as a likely scenario someone witnessed in the boardrooms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac 4 short years ago.  Men in expensive suits struggle with the ethical dilemmas of what they’ve done, are about to do, and whether or not they’ll survive the whirlwind of shit about to befall them all.

Though a viewer may expect some kind of grand vilification of some detestable individual who knew all along what was happening, no one in Margin Call is transparently evil or dripping with sinister intentions. It’s a movie with a realistic, sometimes impenetrable, slant to it.  It doesn’t expect the viewer to fully understand the nuts and bolts of high finance and it doesn’t bend over backward to make its comings and goings crystal clear.  Its characters are all portrayed as hard working men and women of various character.  Some of these people are better than others, others worse than some.  What’s here is a collection of complex people, presented warts and all.  Margin Call gives adequate glimpses into their lives and make them more than just lousy suits looking to rip off the American people.

Kevin Spacey puts out one of his best performances in years as a supervisor mortified by what’s transpired, but unable to do anything about it.  In the end he, like so many, is forced to make a reprehensible decision and let the chips fall where they may, all in the name of job necessity.  Zachary Quinto is the young and unfortunate discoverer of the fallacy which will set in motion world altering financial ramifications.  He’s a smart, young man suddenly faced with the real possibility he has no future.  Paul Bettany, Stanly Tucci, Simon Baker and Demi Moore (!?!) all turn in solid work as a group of business people who have no real answers and no life saving course of action to take.  They’re as trapped by circumstance as the people they’re about to ruin.  Jeremy Irons, as the company CEO, is the only character who comes off as unapologetically oily.  A craven opportunist, Irons makes his CEO knowingly scuzzy, but still believable and not over the top, even offering a birds eye view of events that viewers should listen closely too.

This is the third film in a year to tackle the same difficult subject.  The Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones vehicle The Comapny Men could be seen as a spiritual sequal to the events of this movie.  Margin Call detailing the events which lead to corporate implosion, while Company Men focuses on what happens after employees are pushed out the door. The documentary Inside Job stands as a engrossing, clear and clinical overview of what lead to the economic meltdown as a whole and where responsibilites should be placed.

When the stock market floundered and thousands of home owners found themselves up shit creek, their paddle not only gone but never had to begin with, the people wanted blood.  They wanted a name to curse, a face to spit on, someone to point at and say ‘THEM! They ruined it all for us!’  While there are scores of names to bandy about as culpable to various degrees, Margin Call makes the case that it’s more a fault of system than individual.  An entire economic boom was kicked off on a faulty premise and people, being opportunistic, jumped on board with reckless abandon to make a buck regardless of long term viability of what they were doing.  Warnings were ignored because dollars were being made.  Unlike the movies, there was no hero to jump in and save us, no noble hero to steer us past disaster.  Bruce Willis and his drill bit wound up out of work and on unemployment.  Margin Call methodically shows us that the entire world can be drastically set back because a few people with creative math skills go unchecked by wiser beings.

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