From this week's Scene:
What is Dan Humphrey doing in Margin Call? Gossip Girl followers who notice actor Penn Badgley's name in the credits of this twitchy nocturne might ask that very question. The short answer: Being a dick, getting fired and crying, mostly. It's a canny bit of small-role casting in a movie dominated by actors born to play bad bosses. The Wall Street firm where his character trades is modeled on Lehman Brothers, and you know that the layoffs at the movie's start are serious because Stanley Tucci is the first to go.
On his way out, Tucci's Eric Dale, a risk-management executive, hands a flash drive to a trusted protégé and says, "Be careful." When plugged in by Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto, perfect as a Spock whose tricorder looks for money), the data reveal a giant-killing model, already under way. Writer-director J.C. Chandor treats the doom-spelling equations that Sullivan decodes as a kind of Pulp Fiction briefcase. Various characters stare into glowing monitors and register the enormity of what's on display.
The unintelligibility of the numbers is one of the few jokes (but not the only laugh) in Chandor's mordantly funny movie, and its predictability — three or four frustrated characters ask for a plain-English explanation of what's going on — is offset by the script's swift pace. It takes just 105 minutes for Chandor, a flash drive and Jeremy Irons (cheeks hollowed to Iggy Pop depth) to kneecap the market.
In a movie not short on small pleasures and smartly contained performances (welcome back to acting, Kevin Spacey), the greatest is first-timer Chandor's accumulation of minor subversions. Spacey enters crying, in tight close-up, mourning his dog and not the workers being whisked out from under him. So he's another venal suit in the actor's wardrobe — until, suddenly and convincingly, he's not. Even the most sinister of Margin Call's well-tailored vampires — Irons' John Tuld, a pattern for dissipated suavity cut with a bloody knife — adheres to a certain code.
Pith contributor Bruce Barry will host a Skype interview with writer-director J.C. Chandor after tonight's 7 o'clock show at The Belcourt.