Oct 28 2011

ReThink Reviews – ‘Margin Call’

Rethink Reviews | Published 28 Oct 2011, 10:19 am | Comments Off on ReThink Reviews – ‘Margin Call’ -

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Rethink ReviewsTaking a deeper look at current and past films and how they relate to the world today.

Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.

Read his reviews online at ReThinkReviews.net. Watch his videos at www.youtube.com/user/jsjkim, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ReThinkReviews. ReThink Reviews’ theme song is by Restavrant.

Margin Call

As the great recession drags into its fourth year, it’s becoming harder and harder to remember the good old days when Americans still had confidence in our financial system and the banks that formed its foundation. But that faith disappeared, possibly forever, in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street’s most venerable institutions, suddenly went belly up, triggering a wave of investor panic that would plunge the world’s economy into recession. The film ‘Margin Call’ takes us inside a fictional investment bank called HMS to show what it must’ve been like within the halls of Lehman Brothers during that fateful 24-hour period before its collapse, as executives slowly acknowledge that not only had they built a bomb that will blow up the economy, but that they could save some money if they lit the fuse themselves and were the first out the door.

Zachary Quinto, who is also one of ‘Margin Call’’s producers, plays Peter, a risk analyst who gets tipped off by his recently downsized boss (played by Stanley Tucci) that HMS’ recent troubles are indicators of something much worse to come for the entire economy. After crunching the numbers and seeing the scope of the looming catastrophe, Peter begins the process of sending the bad news up the hierarchy, first by telling his immediate superior, played by Paul Bettany, who then kicks it up to their boss, Sam, played by Kevin Spacey, whose fake tan and false bravado seem to be a reference to Angelo Mozilo, the disgraced CEO of subprime mortgage provider Countrywide Financial.

As late-night meetings are convened as the news moves up HMS’ executive food chain, we paradoxically see an increasing lack of both accountability for and understanding of the financial devices about to sink the economy, ending with HMS’ CEO John Tuld, played by a cold-blooded Jeremy Irons, who essentially declares the impending crash his company created to be an act of God, where the only logical option is to pocket as much money as possible by dumping all of HMS’ soon-to-be-worthless securities on unwitting buyers, a move bound to trigger the meltdown.

In the 2003 documentary ‘The Corporation’, directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott illustrate how corporations share the same traits as psychopaths, with their total lack of empathy, willingness to hurt others in pursuit of a single-minded goal, and refusal to take responsibility for the pain their actions cause. In this way, Fuld and the rest of his officers embody the corporate mindset that the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to expunge from our political system. It’s a mindset that will always value the wealth of a few over the welfare of many while viewing the victims of their decisions as either suckers, peons, or unavoidable collateral damage.

With its largely confined setting, ‘Margin Call’ often feels like it might make a better play than a film, and much of the discussion about the impending meltdown is done in a shorthand that assumes you already have an understanding of what caused it. In that sense, if you’re looking for a primer on what caused the recession, a documentary like 2010 Oscar winner ‘Inside Job’ would be a better pick. But ‘Margin Call’ — powered by an all-star cast that includes Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Penn Badgely — does an excellent job of putting human faces on the perpetrators of an entirely manmade catastrophe.

As all-night meetings stretch into early morning and the clock ticks towards the opening bell, ‘Margin Call’ will give you a sense of the sinking feeling insiders at Lehman Brothers must’ve felt as they finally grasped the size and ferocity of the monster they created and were about to loose upon the economy, even as they tried to convince themselves that it wasn’t their fault, as they watched the sun rise on a world that they would change forever.

‘Margin Call’ is rated R and is in limited release as well as video on demand and Amazon Instant Video.

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