We’re still in it up to our gills, but it’s starting to seem as if there are as many different approaches to dramatizing the 2007-present economic meltdown as there have been innovative reiterations and reimaginings of Shakespeare. J.C. Chandor’s debut feature is shrewdly (and gratifyingly) undemonstrative, a breath of fresh air to anyone who felt bullied into submission by Curtis Hanson’s grandstanding HBO movie Too Big to Fail. In the final weighing, it may remain fairly undistinguished, not super-confident in its Primer-esque deployment of bank-speak and pregnant pauses, and maybe Chandor’s a little late to the party in depicting such phenomena as getting fired by an Up in the Air-style subcontractor, or shotgunning the screen with an Altman-scale cast of the best-looking suit-wearing actors working today. But he also seems to know what he’s doing, so that the combination of competence and studied nonchalance is, at times, almost exhilarating.
In a round of routine sacking, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), whose job it is to analyze risk for a Manhattan investment bank (a composite of defunct firms like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns), is given the old heave-ho. As he leaves, he passes a vague word of a warning to his protégé, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), who takes up with the database his now-former boss had been plugged into. A few hours into the night, Sullivan realizes the numbers add up to a perfect storm of corporate financial liability (imagine an oceangoing freighter filled with cow manure when it’s supposed to be filled with diamonds—a freighter that could turn transparent at any time), and he sounds the silent alarm among the decision-makers who dot the firm’s upper echelon.
I got a little excited when I gradually began to realize that Margin Call wasn’t going to chase after Big Scenes and Big Speeches, and that it was deliberately limiting itself to a small number of hours, rather than a larger arc of days or weeks. The prize of these self-imposed restrictions is that the viewer is relieved of having to worry about artificial character development or resolved-in-90-minutes interpersonal conflicts. Strange as it may sound, the absence of melodrama is the film’s greatest strength, arguing persuasively that a catastrophe that cost the world trillions emerged from a few hours’ worth of quiet conversations, a limited amount of speechifying, and no bloodshed.
Fine for what it is, this Blu-ray has a lot of fairly wanton but unobtrusive edge enhancement and color correction. I suppose that’s the price for the dominance of digital in this age. In any case, the little indie with (mostly) an A-list cast looks fantastic, and the surprisingly sundry assortment of glass panes, perfectly arranged hairdos, and Manhattan’s night sky blacks (and fog-blue mornings) are tastefully rendered and reproduced by Lionsgate’s authoring house.
In terms of sound, this is no Social Network, where David Fincher’s somewhat mad desire to challenge his sound mixers in every conceivable way gave us that scene of totally unsung technical brilliance in which Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg (two actors already operating on massively different octaves) are heard perfectly as they discuss the Victoria’s Secret guy in a loud-as-shit club. By contrast, here’s the club scene in Margin Call: Zachary Quinto’s MIT alumnus and Penn Badgely’s just-off-the-skateboard risk assessors steal a quick drink at the city’s most depressing strip club. Sure, the sound recorders and mixers accurately depict what dubstep or whatever sounds like in an empty Times Square dive, but it’s not exactly the 100-yard dash from a technical point of view. The rest of the film is low conversation with the occasional "Fuck you!," and the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD does a good job with it.
The less said the better, sadly: When two deleted scenes with optional commentary lead the charge for what appears to be a medium-sized supplements package, your Blu-ray is in trouble. The first deleted scene might be Jeremy Irons’s best scene, the film’s roman à clef CEO giving a redundant "rally the troops" speech to the trading floor. Chandor and producer Neal Dodson seem convinced that they were right to remove the scene, but since the purpose of it was to have added a redundant bit of character business, you have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been okay to keep it in the finished film. The other deleted scene is a horribly shot exterior in which Quinto crosses paths pleasantly with an old flame by a coffee cart, apparently by an abandoned lot in the Bronx, just a quarter mile from an Inception billboard. Nicely acted, but either not color-corrected or just lousy, you’ll be glad this one was kept away.
Past that, it’s pretty dire. The commentary track and making-of featurette are both utterly expendable, and the cherry on top is "Missed Calls," a one-minute string of footage shot by some guy on the set, most of it—given the number of crew who shoo him away—not terribly welcome. Lastly, there’s a photo gallery if that’s what does it for you.
A massively "whatever" Blu-ray for a fairly sturdy indie that’s riding a wave of magnanimous press and hands-rubbing-together awards prognosticators.