Margin Call

The Nominations:

  • Original Screenplay

The Black-and-White:

A review by moviegirl

We subscribe to a ridiculous number of magazines, which means that we are always really far behind on our magazine reading. (Last night I was perusing the April 2010 issue of Los Angeles magazine for the first time.)

Sometimes this tardiness pays off, as it did recently when I happened to read a review of Margin Call in one of the October issues of EW just after we’d watched the DVD from Netflix.

Here’s the quick synopsis from oscar.com:

As the United States teeters on the brink of the 2008 economic collapse, a Wall Street investment firm tries to salvage what assets it can while the developing situation spins increasingly out of its control. A young risk analyst, spotting the approaching disaster, interacts with a number of the firm’s top officers as they respond to the crisis in a variety of ways.

At the time Margin Call came out, it received a lot of critical acclaim, including from EW. It got high marks for the tension, the drama, the pacing, and the ethical dilemmas of the story, and the portrayal of the characters from Zachary Quinto as the rocket-scientist-turned-analyst to Jeremy Irons as the ethically-challenged CEO.

Maybe it’s the difference between watching it on the big screen and watching it on the not-as-big screen, or maybe it’s just that the reality of last year’s best documentary winner on the same subject, Inside Job, was so compelling. Whatever the reason, the fictionalized version of these events felt clunky and overacted to me. And that’s saying a lot, given the stellar cast.

This is J.C. Chandor’s first foray into both directing and writing a feature film and his familiarity with the subject matter (his dad worked on Wall Street) may ultimately have worked against him. The jargon is both too much and not enough, like a poor man’s David Mamet. Chandor relies heavily on the device of having a character say to the other “tell me in English” rather than just presenting the story in a way that is understandable the first time. After the fourth or fifth time, I stopped paying attention to both the original line and the explanation.

Is this the best original screenplay this year? Definitely not, although there is a lot to be said for it as a first project. I think a much more deserving film in this category — and one which would have given front-runner The Artist some real competition — would have been A Better Life, which didn’t even get nominated.

Is it worth seeing? Perhaps. But if you’re really interested in finding out what happened when it all came crumbling down that day, you might do better to start with Inside Job.

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