There's a difficulty with movies like this that you can't decide whether to put out of your head all previous knowledge and try and accept it as just a story or run the risk of comparing it with things you do know. Just like that sentence, Margin Call is a bit clumsy....and I got the feeling, a bit preachy.
Set in 2008 in an investment bank just before the huge economic crisis exploded, this probably tells a pretty accurate story of one little part of everything that happened. But that's my issue. Although this movie is highly compelling and the actors and actresses involved make it worth the watch, it does feel like they're trying to point the finger at just one of the groups to blame. But hang on, should I be judging this as a portrayal of real events....ah, you see, there's my problem.
If Margin Call is an attempt to show you the excessive salaries, the "I'm alright Jack" nature of financial institutions, the differences between those who work to build tangible objects that benefit others as opposed to those who move about intangible, unreal amounts of money in high-tech 'find the lady' games.....then it sort of works. But I'm not totally sure what it's message is. There's one central character who goes through an incredible 360 degree change in basic human compassion and morality. There's another character constantly talking about the unreal amounts that everyone earns, quoting individual's salaries and bonuses as if the film-makers want you to constantly be shocked by them.
And these are my main problems with the film. It's seems to lay the blame for the financial crisis with a single sector and it's not very subtle in doing so. It feels like all the stellar cast have joined in to point the finger at the investment bankers and the script is going to make damn sure you get the message. As I say, throughout the movie the exact number of millions various characters make a year is discussed to the point where I wanted to say "enough already, I get your point, you think they get paid too much". This is backed up by the final credits which make the point of all the services, props, aftershow parties that were "kindly provided" or donated to the movie and cast. There's also quite a few points during the film where the script is incredibly heavy-handed explaining some of the difficult financial/economic/legal/mathematical issues to us, the audience. I'm sure this could have been done a lot more subtlely than using a line 'speak to me as you would to a small child or a friendly labrador'. There's a point earlier where Paul Bettany's character says he doesn't understand all the mechanics of what's going on and again, for ITV viewers as my family used to say whenever a plot had to be explained on screen in case it was too difficult, they break it down to the blindingly obvious to drive home their point.
However, whatever my issues about Hollywood being holier than thou about investment bankers and ignoring the whole part that governments, academics and financial regulators played...or more correctly, didn't play, this is still a compelling film, and well worth watching simply because of the people in it. I love Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons and they all deliver......but if this movie is meant to show us what happened in 2008 onwards, I'd probably suggest you watch Too Big To Fail or even better Inside Job (which won last year's Best Documentary Feature Oscar, seriously, watch it....it's online in several places for free including here) as well to get a better, more complete picture.
Would I recommend it to others to watch? Possibly, just for the cast
Would I watch it again? Probably not
What did I think about the writing/original screenplay? Clunky and clumsy
What score would I give it out of 10? 7
And if you want a full list of the 61 movies up for Oscars in 2012, including their categories, I've made a list you can print off using Google docs: Tempest's 2012 Oscars Watchalong