Staff Reviews: Margin Call by Fran Jaffa, Front of House Assistant

So who doesn’t like men in suits? Seriously, if you don’t like them this is probably not the film for you. There’s such a wide variety! Paul Bettany goes in for the traditional waistcoat and jacket, Kevin Spacey bulges out of braces, Zachary Quinto flies the flag for the more relaxed “I’m just a lowly intern and also under 40” shirt-and-tie-combo while Jeremy Irons is flat out scary as he looms out of shadows in a colour which could only be described as Funeral Black. The only thing missing is Bowler hats all round. Actually this lot are about as far from the slightly cuddly bowler-and-briefcase, ulcer-riddled image of businessmen as it’s possible to get and still be on the planet.

At first this film felt to me like a long list of clichés, Zachary Quinto is the young hopeful intern-with-a-conscience, helpfully highlighted by his sidekick Seth (Penn Badgley) who cheerfully has none whatsoever. Paul Bettany is every Wall Street stereotype rolled into one, a brash, harsh, world-weary, ex-smoking cynic; while his boss (Kevin Spacey) is more upset by his dog’s illness than the majority of his floor being put out of a job with no warning. However as the plot develops these clichés become character flaws and the sight of a tearful Spacey at the vets is genuinely upsetting. It helps that just when you’ve decided that this boss is the highest level of evil you could possibly encounter another one turns up and trumps them thoroughly with fresh degrees of callousness and unashamed money-grabbing until you feel almost fond of Kevin Spacey and his braces, and his pep-talks seem less like heartless jargon and more like an actual liking for the people who work for him. This constant one-upmanship (or one-downmanship, if you like) still doesn’t serve to make any of them likeable people, even doe-eyed Quinto, by the end of it, is hiss-inducingly sanguine about his career prospects after a night and day which ruined so many lives. Remember, this film is set in 2008 at the beginning of some very interesting financial years.

With a cast list like this one the range of performances is unsurprisingly spectacular. Did I mention Jeremy Irons is in it? You would think he’d get bored of playing out-and-out baddies but nope, clearly he realises a voice like that is just made for smooth, insidious evil. Lots of comparisons have been made between this and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps but I get the distinct impression that Jeremy Irons could eat Shia LeBeouf for breakfast quite happily, or at the very least persuade him to exile himself over the wildebeest-trampled corpse of Michael Douglas. The biggest difference and, for me, the most interesting thing about this film is it’s musings on money. As the root of all evil, as a fictional concept, in a greedy dragonish fashion or with casual disdain, each character has a different take on the reason they’re doing their job and their conclusions, especially Paul Bettany’s, (delivered with the razor sharp diction of a man who really knows how to swear,) are scarily right on the button.

Unlike the slightly sexy, almost blame-free previous Hollywood attempts on Wall Street and its inhabitants, this is a movie that pulls no punches in pointing fingers. The similarity between the names of CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) and Richard Fuld (real life bad guy, in charge of the Lehman Brothers) can’t really be a coincidence, can it? Although despite its hard-hitting intent, director JC Chandor goes to great lengths to make all these people seem human, even Irons is allowed to display a few cracks, though by the end of the film he’s back on form, spewing conscience-easing platitudes to a shaken Kevin Spacey. This was a genuinely tense and gripping film, which makes its very relevant point in an inescapable fashion. Be prepared.

Fran works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant and has a thoroughly useful degree in Drama. Her interests aside from films are mainly tea and cake. Occasionally biscuits.

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