Margin Call - DVD Review

'two of the most compelling hours of film you can see in your home theatre this year'

Margin Call opened in limited US cinemas in October of 2011, which feels a little early for a serious Oscar contender, aside from the fact that it surely warranted a bigger theatrical push. Yet, despite this and a perceived lack of interest in pushing heavily for awards from Lionsgate, who eventually plonked the film on VOD platforms, J.C. Chandor's writing and directing debut walked away with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

That Margin Call managed such a feat is testament to the film's quality. Chandor's film plays out as a Drama concerned with examining how small choices for the benefit of the individual can damage society as a whole. Time and time again, people make decisions during the course of the film which will negatively impact the wider world. Why do they make them? Because preservation of the self is easier to visualise than preservation of everyone else. It hits the nail of capitalism on the head: the system works, but only if the losses sustained are for the greater good and not the greater ill.

Broadly drawn characters sweep us in to the narrative in easy-to-understand archetypes which stand for pillars of interest; the hot shot mathematician (Zachary Quinto), the charismatic big spender (Paul Bettany), the big boss (Jeremy Irons), the conflicted sales guy (Kevin Spacey), the high-flying up-and-comer (Simon Baker). Each one has something to offer our understanding of how a major financial crisis came about but perhaps none more so than Penn Badgley's Seth, there for no other plot reason but to individualise the selfish nature of individualism. Almost every scene he's in features Seth looking out for himself, aspiring to the next level of salary or, eventually, breaking down in the toilets when he begins to realise his situation. Seth's aspiration, though on the surface of things acceptable enough, is really at the heart of what Chandor is driving at.

Despite the essentially compelling writing and directing, in a film remarkable for its insight and performances, there are errors that noticeably pervade. Horrible sidesteps to moments with Sam's (Spacey) dog don't work. The fact that, in a men's film populated by men, the key 'villain' is suggested to be a woman (Demi Moore), struggles to suggest that it is anything other than open sexism. Unlike the very similar, non-fiction, Inside Job, Margin Call doesn't have time to stop and explain financial concepts to us; when it does it grinds to a halt or has supposedly clever characters saying things like 'you know I've never understood these things', when it doesn't the dialogue sounds too unfamiliar.

But see past those factors and there is a somewhat remarkable film here, for more reasons than the fact that it overcame the odds to appear on Oscar's radar. It's a true ensemble but in particular Bettany, Spacey and the wonderful Stanley Tucci are all on career best form and Chandor's grasp of Drama and the economy, set to the tense tingling of Nathan Larson's score, makes for two of the most compelling hours of film you can see in your home theatre this year.

This post in association with Zavvi.

Margin Call is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 12th November 2012.

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