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Sundance Review: ‘Margin Call’ Has Great Cast But Too Much Insider Trading

Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci strong in fast-paced Wall Street drama detailing 2008 crash

J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut “Margin Call” is an engrossing drama that will play like gangbusters on Wall St., but it’s commercial prospects elsewhere appear limited, not that it will have any problem finding a buyer.

The film tracks a tumultuous 24-hour period at the first firm to bail on mortgage securities. An initial round of layoffs costs Stanley Tucci his job as the head of the risk assessment department. As he’s being escorted out of the building, he hands over some important information that he hasn’t finished assessing to one of his underlings (played by Zachary Quinto, who was also a producer on the film) and tells him to “be careful” with it.

Quinto, an MIT-educated rocket scientist who works on Wall St. for the money looks at the data and discovers that his firm is on the verge of financial disaster.

The panic works its way up the food chain, from Quinto (pictured right, on set with Chandor) Paul Bettany to Kevin Spacey to Simon Baker and finally, to Jeremy Irons, a billionaire whose job as the head of the firm is to “hear the music” before anyone else does.

The performances from the star-studded ensemble cast are undeniably strong across the board, with the exception of weak link Demi Moore, who never rises to the occasion, not that she’s given much to work with.

“Gossip Girl’s” Penn Badgley gives the best performance of his career as the youngest at the conference table, a junior analyst overly concerned with how much money everyone else is making. On the other hand, while Quinto should be proud of his first film as a producer, he still comes off a little stiff on screen, failing to give a glimpse of what lies beneath his character’s brainy exterior. I just wanted to see more emotion from him, but feelings aren’t really what “Margin Call” is about.

Irons and Spacey prove why they’re the Oscar winners in the cast, thought Tucci is excellent in his scenes, which bookend the film. There aren’t many actors who can convincingly play Spacey’s boss (after all, almost 20 years ago he was in charge of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris in “Glengarry Glen Ross”), but Irons is perfectly cast as the billionaire who prefers to see the grey area between right and wrong.

Despite its tough subject matter, it’s easy to see why Chandor’s script attracted so many talented actors. However, the film fails to find that extra gear that marks the stuff of great drama, and the final scene in which Spacey buries his dead dog left me a little cold.

A strong stock, but no blue chip.