Sunday, December 11, 2011

Margin Call

Someone really missed an opportunity by not calling this film Capitalism Killed My Dog. When Sam (Kevin Spacey), a senior executive at an investment bank, reveals his dog is dying, it at first registers as an oddball character touch, no different than a limp or fake British accent. But by the time he’s digging a hole for the poor pooch in his ex-wife’s front yard after selling off toxic assets and almost single-handedly decimating the global economy, the metaphorical intentions are all too clear—it was greed that done it, officer, greed and hubris and subprime lending. Arrest that credit default swap, sir. CAPITALISM KILLED MY DOG.

So first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor occasionally lays it on a bit thick in Margin Call, a flawed but often engaging drama set during the 2008 economic collapse. Chandor has a knack for the telling detail, and he nails the disorientation and shock of those first few chaotic hours, when only the canniest robber barons would make it out unscathed. But he also has the tendency to pummel his point into the ground with leaden seriousness (looking off a rooftop, a cocky young analyst unknowingly on the verge of losing his job helpfully foreshadows, “It’s a long way down”). Look, I hate the greedy bastards as much as the next middle-class schlub, but even I could stand to do with a bit less tongue clucking from the director. Whenever someone gives a speech, they seem to have one eye on posterity the whole time. They’re not talking to the people in the room, but rather the audience, who knows where all this is going and really just wants to see a terse, well-acted financial thriller, please and thank you.

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