J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year) gives us a taut, intelligent, crisp story of one NY investment house which realizes (credibly, at least for movie purposes) that the economic crash/conflagration of 2008 is not only going to happen, but it is happening, however subtly. As a result, we get to see the reaction of and impact upon the firm’s silky Gordon Gekko-like chairman (Jeremy Irons); the executives who sold him on the mortgage-based investment policy that brought the firm to the brink of ruin (a harsh looking Demi Moore, made all the more brittle by her counterpart, the Dorian Grayish Simon Baker); the traders (Kevin Spacey, who I would say steals this movie except for the fact that Paul Bettany as his no. 2 is every bit as good); and the lower-level young risk analysts (Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley) who reveal the threat and then serve as wide-eyed witnesses to the first rumblings of the financial earthquake. The film never misses a beat as it propels the story (which unfolds in a 24 hour period) while offering great characters in an ensemble piece loaded with dialogue that is thoughtfully cynical but never showy.
Chandor’s byzantine world of finance is neither sexy or diabolical, and the cogs are just performing their jobs in a system whose caprice they often fail to understand. As the trading floor manager, and the closest thing the film comes to a moral voice, Spacey sees the inevitability of the resolution but he cannot resist it; the system won’t let him. There are no villains, and thankfully, no simplistic Oliver Stone-esque sermons. The characters are the audience, and they, like us, do not lash themselves to the wheel as the ship goes down. They survive, take stock and move on.
By far the best film of 2011.