110 minutes

A young associate at a troubled investment banking firm finds out just how much the company is at risk from a series of bad investments.

One of the best compliments you can make to J. C. Chandor's debut feature is that there's such a mature sensibility at work here that it hardly looks as if it's a first film - or, for that matter, a first screenplay, since this is very much a writer's movie. Everything in Margin Call is focused on the word, the power and delivery of the dialogue; it's not the visual film-making but the script and the performances that propel the film forward - and that's another compliment, especially in these days where screenwriting seems to be some sort of lost art (despite Aaron Sorkin's well-deserved plaudits for The Social Network). American reviewers have evoked Glengarry Glen Ross and it's a good point - this tale of the financial meltdown seen through the eyes of a troubled investment banking firm could very well be a David Mamet ensemble character-driven pieces (again, compliment).
As a director, Chandor is serviceable and effective (although there's a bit too many shot/reverse shot combos for comfort), but it's as a writer and director of actors that he really impresses, thanks to the snowballing, carefully constructed plot, perfectly rendered through the dialogue and the pitch-perfect performances. Honours in that camp must go to Kevin Spacey for an unusually self-effacing turn, Paul Bettany's smartly ambiguous presence, and co-producer Zachary Quinto's (Spock in the Star Trek reboot) ease stepping up to the plate with the big leagues.
Margin Call is the sort of film that the majors used to put out in the years when their schedules were blockbuster-free territory; these days, it needs scrappy independent financiers to happen. A shame - this smart B-picture is so much better than Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel, and would deserve a proper major-studio release.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell; with Demi Moore; and Stanley Tucci.
Directed and written by J. C. Chandor; produced by Joe Jenckes, Robert Ogden Barnum, Corey Moosa, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson and mr. Quinto; music by Nathan Larson; director of photography (Technicolor), Frank de Marco; production designer, John Paino; costume designer, Caroline Duncan; film editor, Pete Beaudreau.
A Myriad Pictures/Benaroya Pictures presentation of a Before The Door production, in association with Washington Square Films, Untitled Entertainment and Sakonnet Capital Partners. (US distributors, Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate. World sales, Myriad Pictures.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official competition screening, Urania Humboldt-Saal (Berlin), February 12th 2011.


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