The bigger they are, the harder they fall: This little maxim neatly summarizes why we love to watch movies set on Wall Street.
Last Friday, J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call," a fictionalized account of the real-life events of 2008 that led to the financial meltdown, opened to glowing reviews. With an ensemble cast that includes Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley and Stanley Tucci, the film takes place in a period of about a day, as a banking firm discovers it's about to be in very big trouble -- and makes key decisions about what it can do to escape it.
A.O. Scott at the New York Times called the film "an extraordinary feat of filmmaking," characterizing "Margin Call" as "a tale of greed, vanity, myopia and expediency that is all the more damning for its refusal to moralize." The movie also happens to be hugely relevant to current events. Or, as David Edelstein at New York Magazine wrote, "Movie night at Zuccotti Park!"
"Margin Call" is the most recent film to take on Wall Street, but it's far from the first. Since 2008, we've seen documentaries like "Inside Job" and films like "Too Big To Fail" aim squarely at the financial institutions and fire: In contemporary Wall Street cinema, any instance of materialistic indulgence is only a precursor to damnation. And there are more films of this ilk on the way. Brad Pitt has optioned Michael Lewis's book "The Big Short," another explanation of the financial crisis.
At the beginning of the 1990s, a similar wave of Wall Street-centric films also looked back on a decade of excess. But these movies -- "Wall Street," "Bonfire of the Vanities" -- seemed as willing to glamorize decadence as they did to punish it. Whether we're in the grimly sober Wall Street of more recent films, or the cash and flash fantasia of the 1980s, it remains clear that finance has never failed to captivate filmmakers. Sex and death, as seen here, are just what happens when you follow the money.