Sundance 2011: 'Margin Call' is a Engaging Thriller About Numbers
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2011
Last year at Sundance, they brought a movie set entirely in a coffin and it was one of the most intense films of the fest. This year, they brought a movie about stocks, numbers and equations that is also one of the most thrilling movies here that had the entire audience on the edge of their seat. J.C. Chandor's ensemble drama Margin Call is a thriller set mostly in an office building on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. It was one of my most anticipated films at Sundance and although it didn't knock me on my ass, it definitely delivered. Riveting, engaging, compelling, fascinating are interchangeable words I could use to describe this great flick.
At the base, Margin Call is made up of one of the best ensemble casts I've ever come across: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, and yes, even "The Daily Show's" Aasif Mandvi, too. Each one embodies a unique character in the hierarchy of a powerful investment bank, and each one really gives it their all. If I had to be critical of one, it would be Demi Moore, as she lacked the gravitas of the others and didn't fall so easily into her character. On the other end though, Zach Quinto gives a truly awe-inspiring and flawless performance, but that might just be because I love watching him act, he meticulously embodies fascinating characters with their own quirks.
What I enjoyed the most about Margin Call is how thrilling it actually was. Using a combination of a great score, sleek but beautiful cinematography, and a story that plays with the discovery of something that could change everything, writer & director J.C. Chandor crafts a dramatic thriller that does put you on the edge of your seat while waiting to see how everything plays out on the eve of a financial meltdown that we're all very familiar with. Not only is it timely, not only is it entertaining, but it's just riveting to watch. Quinto is at the forefront as the prodigy who discovers the "problem in the numbers" and subsequently brings in the entire company, from Irons at the top to Spacey as a fun executive who's worried about making the right decision.
Sure the script probably could've used a revision by Aaron Sorkin to tweak it into a true interoffice-dialogue masterpiece, but it still addresses plenty of interesting moral, ethical and financial questions, ones that I'm glad it even brought up at all. And while it doesn't go on to explain in every little detail how we ended up in the financial crisis, we get an inside look at the people, the humans, behind the decisions that got us there. And it reminds us that despite a few being rich, greedy bastards, not all of them are heartless. In fact, a few actually did care about what was about to happen. This is easily one of my favorites of Sundance this year.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 8.5 out of 10