At the Movies: Margin Call

I probably would have gone to see the 436th retelling of “The Three Musketeers” but they didn’t screen it.

Who is Johnny English? Ah, it’s a Rowan Atkinson film. A better question would be, why is he reborn? And … another Paranormal Activity movie. Let’s just move on. There has to be something worth watching.

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If the Occupy Wall Street crowd needs a break from all the protesting, I suggest they take in a matinée of “Margin Call.” It will add fuel to their fire and they might just be entertained as well.

The film marks a day in the life of an investment bank that’s on the verge of meltdown. Of course no one knows that when the day begins, and it begins with a large round of layoffs.

Among the victims is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk management expert who’s been working on something big but he can’t quite fill in all the numbers. On his way out the door he hands his project over to whiz-kid Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), with a warning that he be careful.

Working late into the night, Peter solves the puzzle and realizes the bank is on the verge of disaster. Actually, it’s already well past that point it’s just that no one knows it yet. He calls in his boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), who calls in his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who calls in his boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), who calls in John Tuld — the big boss (Jeremy Irons).

Makes you wonder if the business would’ve been in better shape if there hadn’t been so many bosses.

With a new business day dawning and no easy solutions, Tuld wants to get rid of all their toxic assets in a fire sale. Rogers is opposed to this idea as he believes it will destroy the bank — not to mention the careers of his employees — and the plan won’t work without his support.

There’s also the sticky question of who is going to take the fall publicly for the day’s events — Cohen or fellow executive Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore).

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call” is a taut and effective thriller. I was impressed by it even though I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about for the most part. The financial world is an alien one to me.

Like “Ides of March,” the film benefits greatly from its talented ensemble cast. Spacey is excellent as the veteran executive who cares more about his dying dog than the coworkers who have lost their livelihoods. As the night drags on we learn he does have some sense of right and wrong — but will doing what’s right be worth it?

“Margin Call” brings a human face to the people behind this fictional financial crisis, but it isn’t a flattering portrait. It won’t do much to improve Wall Street’s battered image.

Did it work for me? Once again a strong cast has elevated a predictable if complicated story.

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