Hey there, I’m Jared. I have 740 movies and shows in my Instant Queue and that’s just way too many. I’m not adding anymore movies or shows to it until it’s empty. So, I’m going to start at Number One and work my way down the list and review every movie out of my queue, in order, all the way to the end. If there’s a (short-ish) show on the list, I’ll review that if you so decide, or just move on to the next film. But, I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that too. Let’s get to it!
What’s the movie? Margin Call (2011)
What’s it rated? Rated R for Demi Moore’s unsettling face, the foul language of a rich sailor and unfettered greed on a level that almost brought down the United States.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor. Acted by Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi and Mary McDonnell.
What’s it like in one sentence? Another staggering indictment of American greed and incompetence.
Why did you watch it? Many moons ago, before life got so busy I almost had to quit the column, WeAreLegion asked me to look into Quinto’s hypnotic gaze.
What’s it about in one paragraph? The head of Risk Analysis (Tucci) at a large trading film gets laid off before he can report to the higher ups that their magic form of capitalism is unsustainable and imaginary. On his way out the door, he hands his findings off to his subordinate, Peter (Quinto), who realizes through his powers of math and rocket science that the bubble is about to burst and soon. The rest of the film is Peter taking this information up the ladder all the way to the top and the decisions that those in the rarefied air made which caused even the lowest of the plebs (like me!) to make notice of words like “economy” and “bailout”.
Play or remove from my queue? Play it and how! The thing that shocked me the most about this film is that even with the foreknowledge of what is going to go down and the dry, technical aspect of the subject matter, Margin Call plays like an edge-of-your-seat thriller for its entire running time. Basically, the thing that happens that causes everything to turn to shit is “current volatility in the firm’s portfolio of mortgage backed securities will soon exceed the historical volatility levels of the positions. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm’s assets in mortgage-backed securities decrease by 25%, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalization. Given the normal length of time that the firm holds such securities, this loss must occur.” That shit is Greek to me and I wish I had the time to really get into it and figure out what all of that stuff means, but I think it basically says that the imaginary money they were making bets with is drying up quickly and will be all gone in the next week or so. When this information makes it all the way to the top, the boss (Irons) makes the decisions that caused the mortgage crisis and the economy to implode. Watching how all the different players in this scandal react to the news and come to their decisions is fascinating and chilling in equal parts.
The performances are uniformly strong from those that have something to sink their teeth into. Spacey plays one of the upper level managers who still has a few dregs of conscience left, but is also a company man to his core. By the end of the film we realize that it was maybe his journey the film was most interested in, even though actors like Quinto and Badgley might have a bit more screen time. Quinto is basically the hero of the film, if heroes could only identify problems instead of actually preventing them. Quinto has excellent presence in this and I’d be curious to see if he could carry an entire film on his own instead of always being a part of large ensembles. Penn Badgley, who shall always be the perpetually judgmental Dan Humphrey from Gossip Girl to me, doesn’t have much to work with, but relishes what he’s given, as do other smaller players like Demi Moore and Simon (The Mentalist, yo) Baker. Also, Paul Bettany chews the fucking scenery in this thing. I mean, just annihilates it. Less shitty action\horror hybrids and more things like this please, sir. Don’t even get me started on how effortlessly slimy and perfectly human Jeremy Irons is in this. Ugh, you literally can’t take your eyes off of him.
Every single role has at least one excellent character moment in which the actors can really show what they’re made of. The MVP of the film, however, has to be Stanley Tucci. He maybe has six minutes of screen time, yet has the most compelling arc in the film outside of Spacey’s and inhabits a fully lived-in, three-dimensional character. Maybe it’s because Tucci is responsible for writing and directing three of my all-time favorite films (Big Night, The Impostors and Joe Gould’s Secret), but I feel like every Tucci-less film suffers from his absence.
J.C. Chandor is definitely one to watch. The smartest thing he does as a writer is set the film over a 12 hour period, giving it a breathless, race against the clock pacing that never flags, even when its characters take a breath. A laid back, early morning conversation between Bettany and Tucci had me hanging on every word in a way that no blockbuster has in years. It’s an excellent script only matched by Chandor’s relentlessly flawless pacing and the exemplary cast. Even not knowing what they were talking about half the time never made me feel left out or stupider than I already feel when trying to read things like “words” and “books”. Chandor’s new film, All is Lost, starring Robert Redford as a man lost at sea received some pretty big buzz out of Cannes and looks to catapult Chandor into that rarefied air I love to talk about.
How’s the music? Nathan Larson, the composer, is on my radar now. His score is instrumental (heh, sorry) in creating the pacing that keeps this film so intense. It’s like he just said “fuck it, I’m doing the music for a thriller” and went for it. Along with this and his scores for The Woodsman, Palindromes, Boys Don’t Cry and Tigerland, he’s done some of the subtlest, yet most memorable work of the last decade.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Casino Jack (been hearing great things about this), Rogue Trader (lil’ baby Ewan), Inside the Meltdown (in case I really want to get depressed), The Whistleblower (love me some Weisz) and Swimming With Sharks (my introduction to Spacey was through this movie and The Ref. A wonderfully nasty, dark little film).
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? Just one. J.C. Chandor wrote this script in four days. FOUR DAYS! I have trouble deciding to get off the couch every 6 or 7.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.9
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 4.5
Can you link to the movie? As you wish.
Any last thoughts? Maybe some of y’all smarties can explain to me what happened in reality, like, the day after this movie takes place.
Did you watch anything else this week? Tons and tons of documentaries I can’t talk about for BendFilm.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last month’s film, Once Upon A Time In The West? The film becomes more legendary as I sit with it. It’s amazing how perfect it is and how, at almost three hours in length, it just seems to breeze by like a tumbleweed caught in a dirt devil. I love this film more with each passing day.
Next Week? Since I decided to change the format (as you can read in the new intro), I’m going to start with #1 in my queue which is Christopher Nolan’s Following. After that, though, I start getting into shows and miniseries like The State Within, Jekyll and Blackadder. If you want me to skip over shows and just do the movies I will, or I’ll take a little extra time and do the series as well. Your call. I also still take requests if whatever is in my queue bores you.