Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Yesterday I saw Margin Call, a film about the 2008 financial crash (ongoing) starring Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey. There is one very good joke in this gripping, uneven, oddly-cast film which is the scene where one of the main protagonists is revealed to be a rocket scientist in circumstances where someone could easily have said 'It's not rocket science'. But, of course, the complexity of the formulae and computer models concocted in the back rooms of banks in those heady days of sliced and diced derivatives were - if not rocket science - then certainly way beyond the understanding of the traders and salesmen sitting at their computer screens and selling them all around the world. My main objection to the film is that the (presumably) American producers decided to cast Englishmen to play the two nastiest, coldest villains, thereby implying that it is us Brits who drove the vehicle off the road rather than US mortgage-mincers. Jeremy Irons is laughably improbable playing the head man of the fictional firm seen flogging off its whole rotten stock of useless financial instruments. What lets Irons down is a) his wispy artistic-length hair, whereas we all know that bankers have short backs and sides, or are bald and b) his annoying squidgy mouth which is rubbery where it should be letter-box-like; a metal trap. Paul Bettany, the other cynical dastardly Englishman is very well cast indeed, entirely believable as an ex-pat high-ranking executive in the doomed firm, a type I recognised, in fact remarkably similar to a friend who joined Goldman Sachs forty years ago. The rocket scientist-turned cooker-up of mathematical models is played by a pair of quite improbably thick, threaded black eyebrows, like caterpillars, which have landed on the face of an actor called Zachary Quinto. If there were an Oscar category for eyebrows, these would walk it. The maddening thing about this film is that it could have been brilliant. But it is gripping - not least because we still don't know how it's all going to come out, like a WWII film made before the Allies got to Berlin.