There have been some excellent documentaries on the economic crisis, and now comes Margin Call, writer-director J.C. Chandor's biting drama about a fictional financial institution's 2008 collapse. (Allusions to Lehman Brothers are merely coincidental.) It's got an A-list cast and a real-life hook. But with no sex, murder or satisfying resolution, will viewers check in for a cynical boardroom morality play that mostly runs on talk? They should.
Margin Call unspools over one fraught 24 hours. A risk analyst (Stanley Tucci) is laid off, but he gives his data to an underling (Zachary Quinto), who discovers the company's house of cards is collapsing. It's bad, like global-scale bad. The news brings in the bosses, in ascending order (portrayed by Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey and Simon Baker), and finally, the reptilian CEO (Jeremy Irons). Tellingly, the CEO doesn't understand the cause of the crisis ("tell it to me like I'm a child"), but he has a bloodless instinct for the exit strategies, however unethical.
Chandor's debut film has some weak spots -- a dog subplot is clunky, and, since we know the outcome, the final reel feels more perfunctory than dramatic. It's also hard to sympathize with these bespoke-suited gamblers. There are no heroes, but watching these money men sweat and spin to save their own sold-off souls has its fascinations. Starts Fri., Oct. 28. Manor