Margin Call: Financial saga as thrilling as a tax demand

Margin Call: Financial saga as thrilling as a tax demand

Margin Call (15)

Verdict: Marginally interesting

Disappointing: The nearest thing to an ethical character is the senior manager played by Kevin Spacey

Disappointing: The nearest thing to an ethical character is the senior manager played by Kevin Spacey

This is the first of, I fear, many fictional movies about the 2008 financial crisis.

Its
picture of a New York investment bank imploding was presumably intended
by first-time writer-director J.C.  Chandor to be as beady-eyed about
Wall Street as David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross was about real estate
hustling.

However,
Margin Call fails to clarify the issues as effectively as Inside Job,
last year’s Oscar-winning documentary, and Mr Chandor is unwittingly
seduced by the wealth and power he is portraying.

Like
Oliver Stone in Wall Street Two, he’s fallen head over heels in love
with his own bad guys: obscenely overpaid, financially irresponsible
people – some might even be called crooks – who are rewarded for failure
with sums of money most people will never earn in a lifetime.

The
film gives juicy roles to Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci,
plus a showy supporting turn for Jeremy Irons as the financially
illiterate but frighteningly ruthless head of the besieged bank.

The nearest thing to an ethical character is the senior manager played by Spacey.

This
actor is adept at playing characters who are as slimy as they are
intelligent. But here he’s in a movie that requires him to be the nice
guy, and it’s not a good fit.

His hugely well-paid Wall Street executive faces a moral dilemma.
Do
you acknowledge your own errors of judgment and resign, or do you
unload your toxic investments on other people and let them go bust
instead of you

History
tells us the answer, of course. But the film’s attempts to humanise
Spacey’s character – it even gives him a dying dog – are laughable.

In
fact, it undermines him from the start. What are we to make of a man
who cries over canines but thinks nothing of sacking 80 per cent of his
staff

What the film
lacks – much like its characters – is humour or irony, either of which
might have given it a more attractive sense of proportion.

Despite favourable reviews from virtually every U.S. critic, this movie bombed at the box office.

The
reason is that there’s not a single person for the audience to care
about. And Mr Chandor’s stolid, telly-style direction means it is about
as thrilling as a January tax demand.