Friday, January 20, 2012


The audience first glimpses Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) in the immediate aftermath of a downsizing bloodbath at the investment firm where he currently manages the now-decimated sales team.  He’s slumped at his desk on the verge of tears because his dog is dying.  At the prompting of subordinate Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) Rogers gives a vacuous pep talk to the survivors, among them risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and junior analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley).  Their immediate supervisor, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), was not so lucky.  Before being escorted out of the building, however, the risk manager hands Peter an unfinished project and admonishes the young man to be careful.  After work hours, while his team carouses at a club, Peter finishes the project but sees a disturbing trend in the matrix.  He calls Seth at the bar to urge Will (now his supervisor) back to the office.  Will calls in Sam, who calls in Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), who, despite the early hour, calls the firm’s head John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), who calls an emergency senior management meeting.  The market’s current volatility, Peter explains, has caused the firm’s extensive mortgage-backed securities portfolio to lose its value.  Unless you’ve lived under a rock since 2008, you will recognize that writer/director J.C. Chandor loosely based his fictional firm on Lehman Brothers, the failure of which led to the financial market crash, followed by international economic devastation.  This efficient boardroom thriller is less interested in the outcome (we know how it ends) than in the thought process and decision-making that leads to it.  The appealing Quinto draws us into this alien world of self-serving, ethically challenged characters, and the stellar ensemble serves the material well, especially the vampirish Irons and the versatile Bettany, who uncovers fascinating layers without succumbing to likability.  Chandor’s spare dialogue streamlines the action nicely, but his otherwise sharp script tries too hard (as does Spacey) to give Sam moral absolution.

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