November 22, 2011

MOVIES: Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011)

Having read several glowing reviews of Margin Call, I went in with fairly high expectations. I left utterly baffled at the praise the movie's been getting.

It's the story of a Lehman-esque brokerage firm, and the long night in which they discover that the mortgage-based securities they've been peddling are so financially unstable that they could easily bankrupt the firm at any moment.

There's a large ensemble cast with a strange mix of fine actors doing their usual good work (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci), B-level stars and up-and-comers who mostly hold their own (Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto), and some less talented folks who are painfully out of their depths in such strong company (Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore).

The script, which is so desperately aiming for Mamet territory, lacks the wit and the crispness (not to mention the several dozen "fuck"s) needed to be even bad Mamet. Tucci delivers a monologue about a bridge, for instance, that's filled with long strings of memorized numbers and statistics -- people just don't talk like that. And the movie is filled with speeches like that, clunky, stagey clods of text that seem to have been translated into English from some other language by someone who doesn't speak either very well.

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