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It's your 'Margin Call'

Published November 17. 2011 05:01PM

You already know the ending to "Margin Call," a fictionalized account of a fictional investment firm's role in the 2008 Wall Street financial meltdown.

We're still reeling from the fallout.

That part is not fiction.

Even so, as with motorists who can't resist looking at a vehicle crash scene along the highway, "Margin Call" should satisfy the rubbernecker in each of us.

"Margin Call" may also give you some insight as to how the house that Wall Street built collapsed like a house of cards. As with other inside-job scenarios, whether Middle East nation-building or non-profit institution, that go unreported: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Credit goes to dynamic casting, especially that of Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci for making "Margin Call" more compelling than it has any right to be (after all, the topic is the dismal science: economics). Look for an actor Oscar nomination for Spacey and a supporting actor Oscar nomination for Irons.

"Margin Call" takes place at an investment bank over 24 hours in the early stage of the financial crisis.

Sam (Spacey), who manages a group of young hot-shot traders, goes head-to-head with John (Irons), the head of the firm.

Ironically, Sam, who works in risk management at the firm, doesn't seem to have a clue as to what the firm does, how his job works or the nature or details of the transactions it undertakes.

J. C. Chandor, in his theatrical directorial debut, also wrote the screenplay. Thankfully, Chandor spares us from the arcane details of complex mortgage derivatives and the like. He explores the human drama behind the monetary debacle.

Spacey is doing his best homage to his actor hero Jack Lemmon, not unlike Lemmon's turn in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992), based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Mamet play about real estate agents, in which Spacey appeared opposite Lemmon.

Chandor lets the camera linger on his lead actors. He gets the camera right up in their face. The use of the Red Digital Cinema Camera lends documentary immediacy. Scenes between acting giants Spacey and Irons, here at his most lizard-like, snarly, avuncular best, are worth the price of admission.

Also excellent are Moore, as Sarah, a financial risk assessment expert; Paul Bettany ("The Da Vinci Code") as Will, an investment firm manager; and Simon Baker (TV's "The Mentalist") as Jared, one of the firm's higher-ups.

Zachary Quinto (Spock in 2009's "Star Trek," TV's "Heroes") is Peter, who cracks the code of the contents of an external hard drive left behind with a warning by Eric (Tucci). Penn Badgley ("Gossip Girl," "Easy A") plays Seth, a young trader and Peter's buddy.

While the hierarchy might have a bit of the comic strip "Dilbert" to it, what comes across is the day-to-day loyalty that can shift in a mouse click to rivalry and smolder into new alliances as old ones are abandoned or jettisoned with the latest round of layoffs.

"Margin Call" is not very cheerful in its portrayal of so-called casino capitalism and the high-stakes world that occupies Wall Street nowadays. However, it is entertaining for its aforesaid performances and grasp of the reality that once was, the new reality that is and the future reality that is still becoming.

Oh, and by the way, "Margin Call" posits that as long as the gravy train stayed on the tracks, we each were more than willing to sop up the gravy.

"Margin Call," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language; Genre: Drama, Thriller; Run time: 1 hour, 47 minutes; Distributed by Lionsgate.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The credit in "Margin Call" for Jeremy Irons Visa Miracle Team includes a list of persons who helped get Irons into the United States to film his scenes in New York City.

Box Office, Nov. 11: "The Immortals" opened at No. 1 for the Veterans' Day weekend, with $32 million, holding off Adam Sandler's dual-gender role "Jack and Jill," opening at $26 million, and dropping "Puss in Boots" from No. 1 two weeks to No. 3, $25.5 million, $108.8 million, three weeks.

4. "Tower Heist," $13.2 million, $43.9 million; 5. "J. Edgar," $11.4 million, opening; 6. "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," $5.9 million, $23.3 million, two weeks; 7. "In Time," $4.1 million, $30.6 million, three weeks; 8. "Paranormal Activity 3," $3.6 million, $100.8 million, four weeks; 9. "Footloose," $2.7 million, $48.9 million, five weeks; 10. "Real Steel," $2 million, $81.7 million, six weeks; 16."Margin Call," $595,000, $3.3 million, four weeks

Unreel, Nov. 18:

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1," PG-13: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison are back in the fantasy-horror-romance-drama, this time as expectant parents. Other, not so friendly, forces have been lurking ever since the baby shower.

"Happy Feet Two," PG: The animated Penguins are back, as sanguine as ever in the comedy, thanks to voices by Elijah Wood and Robin Williams.

"The Descendants," R: George Clooney stars in the comedy-drama as a wealthy man trying to relate to his daughters after his wife dies.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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