Déjà Viewing: “Star Trek Into Darkness” / “Margin Call”
Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley in 'Margin Call' (Photo: Roadside Attractions)
In 2007, when director J.J. Abrams first started putting together the cast for his reboot of the "Star Trek" franchise, much attention naturally focused on who would fill out the Lycra uniform of Captain James T. Kirk, embodied so uniquely by William Shatner in the sci-fi franchise's previous incarnation. Chris Pine was eventually chosen, and minted a star - leading man roles followed in major studio releases like "Unstoppable," "This Means War," "People Like Us" and this December's forthcoming "Jack Ryan," opposite director Kenneth Branagh.
Another integral part of the 2009 "Star Trek"'s huge success, though (it pulled in $258 million of its $386 million worldwide gross in the United States, best in the series), was in Zachary Quinto's casting as Spock. At the time best known for the buzzy small screen hit "Heroes," Quinto would win praise for his carefully layered performance, serving as the emotional anchor of the film - a feat he repeats in this week's "Star Trek Into Darkness."
There's a certain track record for him serving as a film's emotional and moral center, however. Quinto also largely fills that role in J.C. Chandor's smart, tightly wound "Margin Call," on which the actor also made his feature film debut as a producer. While greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews and eventually nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, distributor Roadside Attractions never could, despite the movie's high-profile ensemble cast, figure out a way to tap into the natural zeitgeist bearing of "Margin Call." It scratched out just over $5 million in domestic theaters - enough for a modest profit, but far less than such shrewdly sketched, adult fare merits.
[Related: Indie Roundup: ‘Margin Call’]
Rather depressingly still relevant, the film tells the story of a Wall Street trading firm over-leveraged in mortgage-backed securities. Quinto plays Peter Sullivan, a senior risk analyst who, after being surreptitiously slipped a USB stick, finishes off the project of his recently fired boss and mentor (Stanley Tucci), and learns of his company's seeming impending collapse. After he alerts his superiors, Sullivan's findings convene a rushed, important crisis-management pow-wow, during which the decision is made to sell off the toxic assets, and dump responsibility on the market.
Eschewing overt political statement, "Margin Call" is a movie that takes a big issue - in this case, white collar fraud and the financial crisis - and distills it into relatable human motivations and emotion. It's pin-prick pithy (as Jeremy Irons' character at one point says, "There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat"), but never false. It's an intellectual punch to the gut.
Amazon streaming video provides an easy opportunity to make for a Quinto double feature this weekend, but the movie's Blu-ray and DVD release affords viewers a chance to not only enjoy a small clutch of deleted scenes and some on-set levity via a couple making-of featurettes, but also sample a wide-ranging audio commentary track from Chandor and one of Quinto's producing partners and old Carnegie Mellon University classmates, Neal Dodson. "Margin Call" is a heady mixture of timely and compelling entertainment - a lot more fun than reading any number of books on the financial meltdown, and, with its facile remove, less likely to dangerously spike your blood pressure as well.