Translating the nation’s financial woes into feature films has normally produced dramas as gripping as the current daily tussle over the debt crisis, which is to say not very. That’s because, as scary as the ongoing financial fallout has been, the story doesn’t make for especially compelling narrative (though documentaries like Inside Job have done just fine), as at its heart, it’s just a story about numbers, and the forcing of actors to imbue those numbers with some sense of menace to convey just how gravely important they are. The “Wall Street drama” is a disaster film in the abstract, where the doom arrives in the form of statistics, no matter how terrifying those statistics might be in the real world. So how does the new Margin Call attempt to turn this Very Important yet ultimately sort of dull story into the kind of thing that doesn’t make the average audience’s eyes glaze over?
By loading it up with plenty of ominous-sounding dialogue and, like HBO’s recent Too Big To Fail, lots and lots of stars, including Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, and Demi Moore, all on hand to add appropriate gravitas to a cast that also includes Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, and Penn Badgely. The film “inspired by real events” takes place over a 24-hour period—it even boasts a 24-style countdown clock to lend an air of urgency—as the big players in a fictional investment firm slowly become aware of their impending ruin, then combat it with lots of disbelieving stares, nighttime office meetings, and the occasional smashing of cell phones. Of course, the fact that you already know how all of this ends sucks some of the drama out of it, which only means that Margin Call will work even harder to keep you interested.