CIFF Diary: Day 13, pt. 2 - The Surprise Event!

10/19 - I love that the CIFF's day of award-winning and audience choice films is capped off by a "Surprise Event," featuring a highly anticipated new feature that will only reveal itself once the opening credits roll.  The admission for the mysterious screening was covered simply by wearing a CIFF T-shirt or Sweatshirt, and the house was pretty much packed with black and white attire.  Although I had managed to come up with only one guess as to what the film might be (Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, perhaps?--it wasn't) I felt like my chances were pretty good considering that prior to a screening on Saturday of The Turin Horse, DePaul digital cinema instructor and fellow film writer Dan Pal informed me that the previous year's film was Paul Haggis's The Next Three Days starring Russel Crowe, a film I still have little desire to see (mostly because of the Crowe-factor).  All in all, I feel pretty satisfied with what we got.  Although the first title card to appear wasn't an absolute guarantee of cinematic quality, it was a good sign:  "Kevin Spacey."  The next title, a bit confusing:  "Paul Bettany."  And, the third title card, I believe, sealed the deal for most of the audience:  "Jeremy Irons."  Then, the unimpressive and ambiguous title, especially to someone like myself who hadn't even heard buzz of this film, appeared in a cold, white font:  Margin Call, directed and written by J.C. Chandor.  Who is J.C. Chandor, you ask?  I don't know, but he's made a pretty timely film.

Surprise!  It's Kevin Spacey!  - Margin Call
Margin Call is a film that lives inside of the 24-hour period of a major, Lehman Borthers-type firm coming to the realization that they have to make their final and ultimate move of moral bankruptcy as the financial state of the institution crumbles beneath their feet.  As we have seen it play out in reality, the fattest rats are always able to scurry to safety and wealth, somehow, and the fattest rat of this film is portrayed with unsurprising gravity by Irons.  Caught up in his own family drama is Kevin Spacey's "Sam," the boss of the top floor, and probably the most human core of the film.  With that said, credit also needs to be given to Stanley Tucci as "the messenger" of the company's downfall, Eric Dale, in what might be one of the most subtly brilliant performances of his career.  Chandor throws a particular scene to Tucci and Bettany late in the film that allows Tucci an unforgettable moment, and shows us that Chandor took some care with this script, and is not out to simply draw nasty caricatures of corporate devils.

Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci in Margin Call
I think the ultimate problem with Margin Call is that it should have been a written by David Mamet at his best (the early 80's, lets say), in a time when David Mamet may be at his worst.  Chandor gets some of the Mamet-esque pressure-cooker elements in there, and most of the film clicks along by the virtue of it's fine performances.  But, if it were Glengarry-era Mamet at the helm, the sense of being immersed in that world would have felt even more complete, suffocating, and dangerous.  As it is, Chandor manages to get off some good lines, and crafts some scenes that really make me curious to see what he will produce next, though not every element of the script has as much forward momentum as it should, and the ending, although admirably risky, is a bit off-kilter.  The supporting cast of Margin Call is very competent, particularly Zachary Quinto (recently seen as Spock in the Star Trek re-boot), who probably deserves billing over Bettany here.  Aside from a particularly wooden turn by Demi Moore (who's lucky she got seated next to the Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi), Margin Call is a solid ensemble piece, though not as weighty as I think it wants to be.

Zachary Quinto in Margin Call
But, the weight of Margin Call as an examination of how the real people involved in these huge corporate meltdowns, which people dedicate volumes to attempting to describe in detail, is appreciated in the way it truncates a view of something so complex within an entertaining, thoughtful, and contained space.  Not a movie I would ever need to see again, but one I am thankful I saw in Chicago at this point in history, and a great way to cap off the CIFF.

Up Next:  My CIFF Top Ten!


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