Sunday, December 11, 2011

MOVIE(S) REVIEW: Thoughts on "Margin Call" and "Ides of March"

I saw two films the other day: "Ides of March," and "Margin Call." Both are well made; both star excellent actors: George Clooney in "Ides of March" and Kevin Spacey in "Margin Call." "Ides" bored me; "Margin Call" kept my interest throughout. Why?

"Ides" predigested its theme for me. The theme: 'All-politicians-and-their-political-operatives-are-corrupt." That's it. Over and out. Two hours of presenting it's theme. To illustrate the point (a bad thing for a filmmaker to do: I was taught by Billy Wilder--and still believe--that films should dramatize their theme, not illustrate) "Ides" showed a series of corrupt characters operating corruptly over and over again. It was a totally one-sided and cynical view of the American system, without any countervailing argument from the other (non-corrupt side) of the argument.

I know: that was the film's point of view: there is no other side. Perhaps so, but a good work of art should demonstrate its point-of-view by the functioning of the drama, not tell it to me as in a bad essay. "Ides"  preached to the choir, and maybe...I'm not a member of the church. Or maybe, but I am... but that's not the point. I went to see a movie, not to attend a political rally and hear two-hours of propaganda.

"Margin Call," on the other hand, showed otherwise decent people in the drama of being corrupted. The characters in that film (Kevin Spacey character as a prime example) faced moral quandaries. I remained interested in the story to see which way they would fall: by the end of the film: would they "do the right thing" or be brought to their knees by their greed and need, and do the wrong thing: sell out their customers with financial chicanery to protect their own (and the company's) ass.

The characters contained both possibilities; so there was a resolution to be awaited. In "Margin Call," the characters ultimately did the cynical thing, true. They cynically 'sold out.' Faust finally made his pact with the devil. But when the film was finished, I also understood why he had sold out, and why their is a cynical perspective today on the financial world (the world of the film). I saw throughout--and learned from--the three-dimensioned human struggle between right versus wrong, and how easy it is for all of us--in the film and in the audience--to be tempted, and to fall to ultimately to temptation:"There but for the grace of God--and intestinal fortitude--go I."

Good, interesting characters, and good, interesting performances, do not decide in advance a character's rightness or wrongness, morality of immorality, corruptness or non-corruptness. That's why we watch the story unfold; to see what will happen. Good and evil, right versus wrong, war within them throughout the story. That is the audience-arresting internal character conflict that is caused in them by the external conflict of the plot. We watch to see which way they will fall...and can only do so because throughout the story they contain the possibility of falling either way: they are, being human, a combination of good versus evil, right versus wrong, corruption and moral rectitude. So: "will he or won't he, will she or won't she, will they or won't they?"

See "Margin Call," and refine your attitudes on the world at large (and the financial world in particular); avoid "Ides of March," unless you are only interested in confirming your prejudice...or only in knowing your political opposition.


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