Published Nov 10, 2011In case you didn't get the memo from the abundance of undergraduates, unemployed schizophrenics and liberal artists (waiters), banks and corporations are greedy, nefarious, cackling villains bent on world domination, not unlike Gargamel or Dr. Claw. And in case you've never seen a Hollywood movie, every office worker and businessperson is passionless, desiccated and smug, seemingly having been manipulated into a life of morally abject behaviour.
Of course, that's the nature of art versus commerce, wherein everyone reduces and simplifies to remove complications from their solipsism, thus sating that need for arbitrary superiority, which is why a film (or artistic work) about commerce acts as a semi-amusing conundrum. This is doubly true in the case of Margin Call, where an entire hierarchy of investment bankers is given archetypal, clichéd corporate character tropes to work with during a panicked realization that the leveraging of fake money (essentially mortgages) for investment gain over a protracted period of time might result in an economic implosion (you don't say).
Said realization comes from low-level analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) after his boss (Stanley Tucci) is let go in an exceedingly callous (and unrealistic) round of layoffs. He uses rudimentary algorithms (something seemingly confounding to everyone else in the bank) to measure projections based on historical fluctuation, causing late night chaos and rushed meetings all the way up the corporate ladder, from the cynical realist (Paul Bettany) to the panicked self-preserver (Demi Moore) to the defeated and despondent (Kevin Spacey) to the evil one percent (Jeremy Irons).
They repeatedly try to explain the economic crisis while doling out the occasional broad monologue about humanity's tendency to ignore history for the sake of immediate gratification, or the complacent nature of a society that turns a blind eye to corporate ideologies for its benefit. There's even the occasional speech about the worth of blue-collar labour and building bridges, since contrarily, a lifetime of risk management will leave you alone, with a fat wallet, an ex-wife and a dead dog.
Everyone turns in a solid enough performance, considering they're all portraying condescending, overly simplified variations of corporate ciphers, which makes the dry, conversationalist, static nature of the film somewhat more palatable. And since the tone is so grave and serious (you mean, people will screw over other people to save their own ass? No way!), most probably won't even notice that none of the meetings, conversations or reactions are remotely believable or realistic.
In fact, most of them are downright laughable. But it's unlikely that anyone involved in the making of this has ever had a job outside of the arts, which takes us back to Gargamel and Dr. Claw. (Alliance)