Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films – In the Valley of Ellah, The Ides of March & Margin Call

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Greetings all and sundry!

Between bouts of less than strenuous snow shoveling. I’ve taken refuge within the recent fare of The Sundance and Sony Channels. To acclimate myself with some interesting contemporary offerings. And maintain a sense of loyalty to Julian of Dirty With Class. And his suggestion that I sometime stray from my comfort zone of earlier Classic Films.

To that end, I have plunged deep into titles that tickled my interest as their trailers and ads when first unleashed on the populous. Either for their visuals, tightly compressed and less than two minute story lines. Or their casts. Which, surprisingly in hindsight appeared and delivered far beyond the parameters of their assigned tales.

Allow me to introduce …

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films

Chronologically first in line is this odd little offering from Paul Haggis and “Based on actual events” of the early Iraq War.

In The Valley of Elah: (2007) – Sundance Channel

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Whose central plot device focuses upon returning G.I. Specialist Mike “Doc” Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). And his strange and grisly death after suddenly going AWOL after a few weeks stateside.

Enter Mike parents, Army veteran and retired Army Intel Sergeant, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones). And his stoic wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon), who has already lost one son to a helicopter crash during a Ranger training exercise..

Being the concerned father, Hank travels to his son’s home station. Starts asking questions while hitting the first defensive line of an Army stonewall. And doesn’t buy the less than orderly goings on of the Army investigation for a minute. In retribution, hank takes a look at his son’s barracks room and finds Mike’s smart phone. Hoping it may have something hidden within its high tech innards.

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Frustrated, Hank has a discussion with Joan, who channels her inner June Lockhart from the 1960’s CBS fci-fi series, Lost In Space. And sends Hank out to find some help from the local police. On the way, Hank drops Mike’s phone at a local computer shop and asks the resident nerd or geek to run a complete diagnostic and dredge up what he can.

At the police station, Hank sees Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) deep in discussion with the distraught wife of a returned G.I.. Who had drowned the family’s pet dog in the bathtub while her husband had his son watch. Detective Sanders takes the report, but there is nothing she or the police can do. And there’s even less Sanders and the cops can do regarding an AWOL soldier. Not her problem. Not her jurisdiction.

Until a few days later and a crime scene pops up with a burned and dismembered body in the middle of nowhere. The local P.D. is more than happy to lateral the scene and crime over to the Army. Since the scene is on the outskirts if the military reservation, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

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Hank wants to stick his nose in, but the Military Police have little time and no use for a long retired brother in arms. Angered, Hank starts playing with his son’s phone. Which had suffered heat and fire damage. And its stored videos are garbled, but show images of G.I. interrogating and later, torturing Iraqi soldiers.

Hank get a call from the base and an officer takes Hank out to the crime scene. And later the morgue. Where Jason Patric‘s Lt. Kirklander starts asking questions about Mike’s possible involvement in drugs. Nudging the possibility that a cross border gang may be responsible. Since a glass pipe was found under Mike’s mattress.

Hank and Sanders return to the crime scene and determine that Mike was brutally killed and immolated elsewhere and deliberately dumped between battling civilian and military jurisdictions…

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers’ sake.

Overall Consensus:

Paul Haggis is a well respected, revered and feted screenwriter. Attached to many award winning films. And that said. He should stick to what he knows and does best!

His direction of this first of a small number of “Anti-War” films is parochial at best. He knows how to set and stage scenes. And arranges and choreographs whatever action scenes there are in a copy book or primer fashion. No scene leaps out memorably. Though, Mr. Haggis claims credit for the film’s adaptation and screenplay.Even when Tommy Lee Jones’ Hank near weepingly informs his wife that their youngest son is dead.

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Susan Sarandon does anger and the sudden bereaved mother well. But Carol Burnett did it better in the made for TV movie, Friendly Fire in 1979. Cinematography by Roger Deakins is serviceable. And a bit clever with New Mexico outlands and Morocco substituting for Arizona and Iraq, respectively. And polished by editing by Jo Francis.

Also not a fan of the heavy-handed, Boogeyman treatment ladled onto Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something that little is known about, but quickly becomes the catch all for any tense or erratic behavior beyond what is considered the “norm”.

Which takes into the sometimes murky world of politics. In an adaptation of the play, Farragut North. Originally written by Beau Willmon, who shares screenwriting credit with the film’s director, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The Ides of March: (2011) – Sony Channel

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Which boasts Ryan Gosling as junior political campaign manager, Stephen Meyers. Attached to the Presidential campaign of Pennsylvania Governor, Mike Morris (D), (George Clooney. Who’s not afraid to occasionally throw his weight around). Tied up in a slowly tightening race against fellow Democrat and Arkansas Governor, Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell).

Both candidates have connections and money to burn. But need the endorsement of North Carolina Governor, Franklin Thompson (Slippery Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 convention delegates.

Now that the primary characters have been noted. The meat of this tale hangs mostly upon and is brought to the fore by secondary players. Specifically, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, in fine form!) as Tom Pullman’s manager, front man and perhaps, bag man? Who meets with Meyers in private and delivers Meyers to a sit down with Duffy’s boss. Media and message specialist, Paul Zaza, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Laconically used to his power and rarely raises his voice.). Who is intrigued by Meyers and is in search for a new Padawan to mentor and teach the ropes and ins and outs to.

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Meyers and Duffy talk. And Duffy offers Meyers a position on the Pullman campaign. Which Meyers turns down in an effort to curry favor with his new girlfriend, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood). Young. Idealistic. And utterly naive and out of her depth in her desire to be part of “An honest campaign, where integrity matters”.

Molly is an intern with the Morris campaign and is also the daughter of former Senator Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin) and Chairman of the Democrat National Committee.

Meyers is bounced around as offers of Sec State are made to Morris by Duffy through Pullman. Counter offers are made in return by Zaza. Just to the the juggled balls even and airborne and Thompkins’ delegates in the mix as major leverage.

No one is playing well with the other. All anxious to hold onto whatever favorable numbers are in the polls. Meyers tries calling Molly to no avail. So Meyers begins poking around where he shouldn’t. Back to Iowa and a stopover shared by Molly and Morris. Molly is pregnant by Morris. Meyers pays bag man and delivers money to Molly for an abortion. Meyers fires Molly from the campaign with orders for her to keep quiet.

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A New York Times reporter, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) braces Meyers with what she knows about Meyers’ meeting with Duffy. And wants more. Threatening to publish what she knows unless Meyers wants to help himself. Confronted with a leak. And Molly’s sudden overdosing. Meyers decides to take on Morris. Who has just enough information and gossip to implicate Meyers in Molly’s death. And cuts Meyers off at the knees while being handed his walking papers.

Seeking revenge, Meyers talks to Duffy, who wants nothing to do with Meyers’ rogue, duplicitous activities. Paul Zaza is even less friendly. Filling Meyers in on his personal beliefs in loyalty. And Meyers coming up far short. Admitting to Meyers that he leak that sent The New York Times after him. And not really caring. Because Meyers doesn’t have what it takes for full contact politics.

I’ll not violate the Prime Directive regarding Spoilers and pull over right now.

Overall Consensus:

Having followed the rough and tumble of politics inside and just outside Washington, DC for forty plus years. And crediting everything I know about how Democrats play the game to the late, great political novelist, Ross Thomas. I just didn’t buy the premise of the entire film.

Never doubting for a moment that Mr. Clooney’s Mike Morris would win the nomination. Basically due to his hair and good looks. I also expect something more imaginative than long telegraphed twists and standard plot devices.

That said, the battle is fought exceptionally well in the trenches by Mr.Giamatti’s and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And their characters who exude worldly weariness over the daily give and take. Addicted to the give and take of power, while doing everything they can to protect their candidates. To these men, it’s a job. Which becomes a career over time. With wins and losses. As long as the wins outnumber the losses. To Ryan Gosling‘s Stephen Meyers. It’s an adrenaline charged rush. That requires, and later demands recognition.

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It might also help to use locations in Pennsylvania to help tell and sell the tale of a Pennsylvania Governor’s desires to rise in political ascension. Instead of major and outlying cities in Ohio and Michigan!

Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is noteworthy in using these sometimes cramped and uncredited locales to add a touch of damp, dour, cold, dingy winter weather to buttress a rather tame, pedestrian.story.

Which glides us to the final installment in independent story telling. Orbiting slowly and re entering in stock market crash of 2007 and its near fatal effect on Goldman~Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

Margin Call: (2011) – Sundance Channel

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Which opens to the noise, clamor, hustle and bustle of another day’s trading on the floor. Though, something new is added. Expensively suited supervisors taking busy traders aside and handing them their pink slips. With whispers to not clear their desks or offices. Just leave!

Watched in slack jawed and stunned awe by Junior risk assessment analyst, Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley). Senior Trader, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Trading Desk Supervisor, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). Something foul is afoot as traders are escorted out. Amongst them, Peter and Seth’s boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Master numbers cruncher. Head of risk management on the trading floor. And nearly unrecognizable in a few days’ stubble.

The three subordinates watch as Dale is led towards an elevator. Peter steps close and Dale manages to pass a USB Memory Stick. With the waning “Be Careful” as the elevator doors close, Peter plugs in the stick and starts stripping the mathematical algorithms. Discovering a whole submerged iceberg of useless and junk stocks, bonds and mortgage backed securities. Far exceeding projections from any time in the past. Or present.

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The exchange house is hemorrhaging money. And drastic measures are needed as department heads decide to burn the midnight oil. each wondering if their heads will be on the block. As Senior Risk Management Officer, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) starts going over the “Formula”‘s numbers and projections. Seth and peter call in Will Emerson. Who calls his higher up, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey solidly in touch with his inner Jack Lemmon).

The players make their entrances in whispered asides and brief encounters. As Will, Seth and Peter go to the skyscraper’s roof for a smoke or last bit of fresh air before the dawn. With Will trying to allay fears while not really knowing much of anything, himself. As a helicopter makes itself known before circling and landing on the upper, night lit helipad.

The first of several meetings is called. With Division head, Jared Cohen (Simon Baker, from L.A. Confidential and The Mentalist. Radiating smooth confidence in expensive attire) and Corporate CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons. A veteran of past “hiccups” and anxious to find the limits of immediate damage). His opening soliloquy is equal parts familiarity with what may occur. And a desire for ideas. Any ideas which might help allay or soften the inevitable.

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Ms. Robertson adds to the discussion with the news that “The Formula” is real and a worst case scenario will soon be at hand. While Sam responds to Tuld’s wanting a plan of action with a dawn to dusk sale of anything and everything. At least 40% sales on stocks and shares at 85 cents on the dollar by 11 o’clock. With recalls to brokerage houses throughout the day. Starting at 65 cents on the dollar afterward and continuously whittling down as excess ballast is dumped, But to what end?

Survival, of course. Creating what is sure to be a long, hard and full day ahead. As lower tier traders go seek privacy to cry or panic. And their bosses sweat out what can be retrieved or gained.

As the man with the plan, Eric Dale is sought out for whatever other input he might be able to add in regards to sales and options. Eric is at home. In his recently purchased and refurbished house in Brooklyn. And Will and Peter have their breakfasts interrupted. And are dispatched to find whatever the can. or bring him back.

In the interim, Ms. Robertson has a tete a tete with Jared over whom is going to be asked to fall on their sword and be a sacrificial lamb. Sarah is having no part of it. While Jared knows that she is. And will be. While Sam takes the just arrived floor traders asides and delivers not exactly a pep talk, but more of a plan of strategy.
Mentioning bonuses to individual and team of traders for achieving or exceeding their assigned quotas.

The morning bell clangs and the air is alive with calls out and the sales feeding frenzy begins. With Will laying on all his charms while giving away whacking great chunks of toxic stocks at slightly better than minimum loss. That will surely approaching maximum before the day is out.

Overall Consensus:

Here we have an instance of an A-List cast being used to less than their absolute potential. In a film whose dialogue could use one or two scenes of unbridled and angry scenery chewing. We have utter, serene, near glacial calm as the bottom is falling out of a touch stone brokerage house.

The cast does what it can to add suspense with inflection and decades of experience with the spoken word. Especially Kevin Spacey’s Sam. Who has too many years in. Wants out badly, but the present opportunity offers little in return. Sam does what he does, because he needs the money.

While Jeremy Irons knows the present situation is terrible. But survivable. The only real “third wheel” is Demi Moore‘s Sarah Robertson. Who approaches the requisite anger level for such a situation. Railing against the men over her coveted position, while being brushed aside at nearly every turn.

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Surprisingly, it’s Stanley Tucci who calmly, quietly underplays and subtly manages to steal then own every scene he’s in. His talk with Will on the steps of his Brooklyn home is a wonder to follow as explains hours and days of travel saved with a bridge he’s helped design between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Direction by J.C. Chandor is adequate and mostly shot in one of Goldman’s deserted office towers. Though his screenplay could have stood a second review and possible re-write.

Personal Notes:

I don’t mind “Bad Cinema”. Some offerings are my favorite Guilty Pleasures. What I do mind are producers (And these films’ list of producers are all excessively long) putting their money on the line to assemble A-List and ‘Dream Team’ actors saddled with less-than-satisfactory projects under the reins of less than proven directors.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Your comments are welcome!

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39 thoughts on “Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films – In the Valley of Ellah, The Ides of March & Margin Call

    1. I came down to the comments to say exactly the same thing. What a brilliant cast wasted in a film that didn’t know if it was a knockabout caper or a serious war film – either would have worked well but the mix didn’t.

      I quite liked The Ides of March…

      1. Totally agree on both counts, Ides of March AND Monuments Men… hmmm, Clooney should step it up on top of just the casting part. I think the script is what’s lacking as both stories are intriguing.

        1. jackdeth72

          Hi, Ruth!

          I think Mr. Clooney needs to take a page from John Ford when it comes to directing:

          “Tell the story. The rest is hogwash!”

          What I did find interesting is how (Spolier Alert!) Jeffrey Wright’s Franklin Thompson managed to wrangle sharing the ticket with Mr. Clooney’s Mike Morris. Political favor bartering at its kind of sleazy best!

      2. jackdeth72

        Welcome, Louise!

        Excellent point!

        I sometimes wonder what the Coen brothers would have done with the story and cast of The Monuments Men . Who would probably have gone “knockabout”, ala Kelly’s Heroes and managed a better story.

        I hope to see you drop by and opine more often.

    2. jackdeth72

      Hi, Terry:

      Thanks for starting off the conversation so well!

      ‘The Monuments Men’ is a nice choice and progression for director Clooney. Who helms a film by just sitting back and letting things happen. With no specific goal in sight. I kind of glommed onto the lack of love that film has been receiving. And have it slated for it being HBO’s either summer or winter showpiece.

      Marisa Tomei would have been much more believable as a reporter for The Washington Times , instead of The New York Times . A paper that rarely, if ever goes after its own. Even in a primary.

      One of a few flaws in The Ides of March.

  1. I haven’t seen the first, but I like Margin Call considerably more than you do. I think the script and actors produce a great deal of nuanced tension. Is it a perfect movie? No. But I think it good all the same.

    1. I like Margin Call too, in fact I think it offered a more compelling, albeit less sensational, look into the mind set of Wall Street folks than Wolf of Wall Street. I know lots of people dug that one but for me it was more of a big circus of debauchery that grew repetitive very quickly. Plus I love the cast of Margin Call a whole lot more.

      1. In many ways, I think the two movies have similar backdrops but different objectives. Margin Call is more focused on Wall Street ethics and less on satirizing the entire system than Wolf. I think both succeed at their goals.

        I do agree that Margin Call’s ensemble is a touch better.

      2. jackdeth72

        Hi, Ruth:

        Margin Call has the better cast opposite Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street . And, I think the best cast of my three selected films. Spacey and Irons deliver a sense of tense urgency tinged with foreboding contained with the trading house’s towers. I just expected more from such an event delivered to a high end ensemble.

    2. jackdeth72

      Hi, jjames:

      There is tension in Margin Call and the cast, especially Mr. Irons and Mr. Spacey do their best to sustain it. Though, what I thought was missing and required, were floor traders and perhaps, Mr. Quinto and Mr. Badgley facing the reality of being mortgaged up to their eyeballs. With expensive cars, homes, and perhaps a first and second wife. And maintaining their lifestyles beyond the bottom falling out and the next days, weeks and months.

      A few scenes of outrageous and frightened arguments or scenery chewing from the lower tiers would have added much more.

      Just my opinion.

  2. Fine post here Jack. I must admit that I actually quite liked In The valley of Elah and Margin Call but The Ides of March was definitely disappointing. Some would even mention The Counselor in a post like this. Not me, of course, I loved that. 😉

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Mark:

      Thanks very much!

      I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the comments so far. I didn’t expect complete agreement with my choices and the number of insightful comments are the meat and potatoes of what cinema sites are all about. Well thought out and executed food for thought. Creating spirited discussion.

      In The Valley of Elah came across as too heavy handed in message delivery for me.
      While Margin Call feels too tightly compressed, emotionally. Given a cast who could work miracles, given a few extra scenes.

      The Ides of March just didn’t look, feel or sit right with me. Portraying one of the weakest
      political battles between Democrat contenders on film. The cast pulls the plow, but there isn’t much of a field to hoe.

      From the clips and trailers I’ve seen of The Counselor . It’s more misunderstood than mediocre and will garner my attention soon. 😉

  3. Superlative post, Kevin! I’d add Monuments Men in here as well which had a fantastic cast IMO. I read a tweet about Monuments Men that says ‘Clooney seems to think that his job is done when he assembled the cast’ or something of the sort and I agree completely!

    In any case, I actually think Margin Call is pretty good considering it’s Candor’s first film, but agree Ides of March is mediocre at best. Haven’t seen In The Valley of Elah yet though.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Ruth:

      Thanks very much!

      This was a step out of my comfort zone. And I wanted to be as thorough as possible in my presentations. Which seems to have paid off nicely.

      I’ll wait for DVD or HBO for Monuments Men . From what I’ve seen, the cast would have fared better under the direction of the Coen brothers. I can’t disagree with your Twitter friend’s dissertation. Mr. Clooney can gather the best actors and actresses, though he is kind of a rudderless director.

      Margin Call is the best of my three selected films. And it’s cool that I’m catching some Flak over my critique(s). With another ten or fifteen minutes, the film could have been great!

  4. Ted S.

    Interesting post here Jack, unfortunately or fortunately? I haven’t seen any of the movies you mentioned above. After Crash, I decided I didn’t want to sit through a movie that was directed by Haggis, he’s too heavy handed when it comes social issues. Instead of just telling the story, he seems to want to tell the audience what’s right and what’s wrong, that kind of storytelling doesn’t sit well with me. He’s a fine screenwriter but not a good director.

    Ocean’s 12 is another example of bad movie with talented cast, I love Ocean’s 11 but what went right with the first film, totally went wrong for the sequel. The cast and crew looked like they had fun making the movie but they forgot that we the audience needs to be part of the fun too.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Ted:

      Thank you for such a great, insightful comment!

      You hit the nail on the head, regarding Crash . Which I consider vastly over rated, considering its rather pedestrian roots.

      Your “too heavy handed when it comes social issues. Instead of just telling the story, he seems to want to tell the audience what’s right and what’s wrong” drove my interest meter into the high teens, regarding In The Valley of Elah.

      Also, using those in uniform and PTSD as Boogeymen and whipping boys didn’t sit well, either. It’s too close to what Hollywood did to returning veterans of Vietnam and later. Writing them all off as psychos. When nothing has been proven to buttress that claim.

      I like the original Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 more than Clooney’s re working it decades later. A decent enough film. Which towers over the followers in the franchise.

      Great catch on audience participation! An important ingredient that producers and directors seem to forget about.

  5. Love the post Kevin and I actually agree on all three. They seem to be too in love with their own concept and importance which equals some pretty mediocre films. Considering the casts involved these movies could have been a lot better. Some have mentioned “The Monuments Men” which is a movie I really like. But I 100% agree with Ocean’s 12 which is just terrible. Not mediocre or fair. It is terrible and a waste of a good cast.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Keith:

      Who are you? And what have you done with my friend!? 😉

      There did seem to be an underlying “Look at Me!” attitude through these three films. More so with In The Valley of Elah and The Ides of March than Margin Call .

      Never understood all the hoopla attached to The Ides of March when The Best Man from the 1960s did political sleaze so much better. And Cliff Robertson played a much sleazier, oilier, politically savvy and driven character than Mr. Clooney could ever achieve on his best day!

  6. Kevin you were right on about In The Valley of Elah. Nothing great there.

    Margin Call. “J.C. Chandor direction is adequate” is a spot on assessment as is of all the underused talent on display. “Though his screenplay could have stood a second review and possible re-write.” Personally i thought the script was superb (I’ve read it) with even the Academy choosing it for Best Original Screenplay. I tend to put more credence into that category as it it chosen by his peers and not the whole Academy. Also I think the script was responsible for pulling in such a superb cast especially for a first time writer/director. Oddly J.C. Chandor goes from this talkfest to the virtually silent All Is Lost starring Robert Redford.

    Personally I’d substitute Clooney’s The Men Who Stare At Goats (Clooney, Bridges, Spacey, McGregor) or other political dramas like All The Kings Men (2006) (Winslet Penn, Hopkins, Law, Gandolfini, Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson) or Lions For Lambs (Streep, Cruise, Redford) for The Ides Of March… but that’s just me.

    The latest contemporary movie that comes to mind would be The Fifth Estate. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock),
    Daniel Brühl (Rush, Inglourious Basterds), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Half Nelson), David Thewlis (Harry Potter, Mike Leigh’s movies), Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, Munich), Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Peter Capaldi (In The Loop, the latest incarnation of Dr Who), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and Alexander Siddig (Syriana).

    Although not contemporary, I can’t not mention Caligula. It may not have the quantity of wasted cast members of say A Bridge Too Far, The Greatest Story Ever Told or Casino Royale (’67) but it features a veritable who’s who of British acting royalty slumming it that is hard to match. Malcolm McDowell, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir John Gielgud.and Peter O’Toole [Mark W will appreciate this] …who declined Knighthood due to political reasons, I can’t think of a better cast in a worse movie, can you? John Huston was originally in talks to direct and it ended up going to Italian softcore director Tinto Brass. To top that off, producer, Penthouse’s Bob Guccione convinced screenwriter Gore Vidal to throw in some gratuitous sex scenes causing French actress and 70’s sex symbol Maria Schneider to bow out of the film due to being “uncomfortable with the sex and nudity in the script”. After enduring the infamous “butter scene” from Last Tango in Paris with Brando I guess even Caligula was too much for her. I can’t even call the “acclaimed” R-rated version mediocre like the other films in your list

    Nice topic. Bravo.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Dave:

      Margin Call required something extra. Perhaps some different angles in cinematography or a raised voice or two. I wasn’t aware of the screenplay’s pedigree.

      Good catch with The Men Who Stare At Goats! One of those films that falls into the category of “Why was this film made?” Right along with Caligula, which crashed and burned despite Bob Guccione’s ads for it on radio and the infamous vagina and phallus cakes and “Orgy Barge’ scenes.

      A Bridge Too Far is decent enough, until the C-47s and gliders get airborne. Then it slowly falls apart

  7. Well written analysis on Margin Call – I simply don’t agree. I thought the film was quite good. The character played by Jeremy Irons (John Tuld) took a stand and he likely was old money – the kind that keeps everything inside. So we got the restrained coldness. .

    Comparing this film to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street Never Sleeps, I offer the Frank Langella role of Louis Zabel.

    Between Fuld and Zabel we have two opposite reactions – like Night and Day, or in this case Life and Death.

    On the other hand, I totally agree that Monuments Men was an opportunity wasted, and The Ides of March almost but not quite in the same place.

    1. Welcome, JustMeMike:

      Thank you for taking the time and opine so well!

      Jeremy Irons is the anchor of Margin Call . Who understands that that the system needs to be purged or back washed like a swimming pools central filter to get rid of accumulated gunk.

      It’s the nature of the beasts of business, economics and capitalism. It’s going to hurt. People will be sent packing, but the trading house will survive at the end of the day.

      Great catch with Wall Street . A great double bill with Margin Call and the former film’s message that “Greed is good!” compared to the present growing mindset of “Tax. Then eat the rich!”.

      The premise of The Ides of March was kind of lost on me. Why bother having two liberal Democrat candidates fight? When both are toeing their political party lines on social and other issues, when their only solutions are to tax and spend?

  8. I liked Margin Call and The Ides of March as I think they’re excellent, ensemble-based films that each offered something different. The former for its exploration into the world of a financial crash and the latter for its exploration into political campaigns. In the Valley of Elah was terrible due to its heavy-handed approach about war and such. The ending I think was a major insult to the audience.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, ninvoid!

      We can disagree. And agree. That’s what’s so cool about posting. Differing opinions are what makes these site go around.

      Margin Call could have benefited from a bit more exploration and given some more meat to a superior ensemble cast. While The Ides of March would have worked much better with a battle between opposing political parties. Instead of two men vying for “The same thing. Only different!”.

      Having been in Active and Reserve uniform for more than three decades, In The Valley of Elah was just too smugly heavy handed for my tastes.

  9. Great post! I actually like all three of these films, but I can’t disagree that they have their flaws and can be forgettable, apart from the terrific work from the ensemble casts.

    1. jackdeth72

      Greetings, Josh:

      Thanks very much!

      One the hallmarks of a great film is its memorable scene, lines and ability to be remembered months, years and decades beyond its initial release weekend(s). Perhaps, Margin Call fits that bill. While The Ides of March came and went with little or no fanfare or aplomb.

      I selected In The Valley of Elah due to its title and remembering a trailer or two from when it was unleashed. Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron performed admirably, but deserve better.

  10. I haven’t seen In the Valley of Elah. I’ve seen the other two and I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on both. Margin Call was a gripping movie filled with tension. It nailed the interpersonal dynamics as they went up the food chain. I’ve watched it multiple times and it holds up very well. And as for Margin Call, it’s not about Clooney’s story at all, regardless of the fact that he was the bigger name. It’s about Gosling’s character arc. And that is a strong one.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Chip:

      We can disagree.

      I wanted to see some loud and angry “interpersonal dynamics” amongst the lower tier traders in Margin Call . Worrying through the night. Sometimes loudly. As their livelihood hangs in the balance and may face the chopping block with the coming dawn.

      I thought Ryan Gosling was a politically savvy, instant gratification lightweight and neophyte in The Ides of March compared to Mr. Giamatti and Hoffman. Who wore their previous failed campaign scars and stories boldly. Opposite such a wide eyed rookie.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, ck:

      Thanks for dropping by!

      The cast does what it can, and sometimes more. To move a rather aimless and wandering story along. Giamatti, Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright all deliver more than I had expected.

  11. We’ll have to agree to disagree on Margin Call, which I really like. Agree with you on Elah, while Ides of March doesn’t fulfil it’s potential. That all being said, well argued Ruth!

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Three Rows:

      We can disagree. No fault. No foul.

      Margin Call scores highest for me in story telling. Even if I think the cast isn’t utilized to its full potential in a film that just falls short.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and add to the discussion!

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Julian:

      Good choice with Chloe ‘!

      Never understood the idea of a hot brunette inviting a hot blonde to test the fidelity of a possibly cheating husband. Though, having the blonde hitting on the blonde’s son is a kind of neat twist.

      Close to Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (2002)in regard to lush location ridiculous jewelry heists and equally lush plot holes.

  12. Those three films were ok to me, entertaining while they lasted, but wouldn’t make my top 10 of those years.
    Arbitrage (2012) and Wall Street (1987) I prefer over Margin Call-a film which I felt had too many characters, so I never really got to care about anyone.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Chris:

      Arbitrage is a much more focused and personal film dealing with a cheating husband. A tragic event. Its sloppy cover up and familial backstabbing. Richard Gere and the rest of the cast work well within its parameters.

      While Wall Street seemed to me, all over the map.

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