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Movie Review: Margin Call

People Talking in Rooms, er, Margin Call, is my first experience with day-and-date VOD. What that means is instead of hauling ourselves to a theater and plunking down $22+, Lillian and I were able to watch the film at home in HD streaming for $6.99 from iTunes.

Would I have enjoyed Margin Call more if I watched it in a theater with an audience? Probably. I certainly have never had a movie ‘crash’ in the middle at a theater.

(Hot tip: if you have an iTunes rental crash and it doesn’t appear when you re-launch iTunes, go to the Downloads folder in the iTunes Music Library folder at the Finder and you’ll find an .m4v file there that can be opened in iTunes. Your place in the film will be lost. More here.)

As for the movie itself, maybe my iTunes formed the right opinion. If you’re going to have a movie with people talking in rooms the whole time, the dialogue and dramatic power struggles better be Mamet-level/Sorkin-level in intensity. The script by J.C. Chandor (who also directed) has some smart elements, putting several characters into interesting moral quandaries as they look down the barrel of the 2008 financial crisis. But in the end, everyone avoids conflict. I know the script wants to make the point that it is easier to take the money than fight the system, but it makes for dull cinema.

The best part of the script is a voice-over scene of Paul Bettany’s character wheeling and dealing in the lingo of a trader. But most of the time the dialogue is dumbed down to jargon-free. I counted four times where characters said something to the effect of “explain it to me like I’m a child”. Despite this sort of pandering, Lillian still fell asleep.

I can’t blame her. A movie where the audience’s attention is not rewarded is always snooze-worthy. While top-notch actors like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci do their best to inflate key monologues, they just didn’t grab me. In a talky film, such moments are the set-pieces, are the special effects. Only Paul Bettany character’s eloquent defense of the financial industry ever came close being a convincing piece of rhetoric. Or maybe it’s just that a movie that tries to evince sympathy for the 1% amidst the current sturm und drang of Occupy protests appears to be in bad taste.

I can praise the cinematography, by Frank G. DeMarco, shooting on RED. He and his team created a slick, dramatic look with deep shadows and harsh lights which felt like the best of the DSLR aesthetic (and I mean that in the best way). Compare the sickly, low-contrast look of Contagion which seems more common for RED shooting. DeMarco’s look feels like what Michael Mann has always been trying to achieve in night/city scenes, but never had the sensor sensitivity to do without distracting shadow noise. The palette has a lot of green and yellow, and isn’t afraid to be monochrome at times. By pushing the contrast, it looks more like what a 5D or a 7D might spit out, but, as I said, super-slick and polished. It’s an aesthetic that feels at once both fresh and classic. I hope more filmmakers jump off the orange-teal bandwagon and onto this one.

1 Comment

  1. I fell asleep too!

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