Why This One: When I read this script I thought it would be too talky and uneventful to work as a movie. What I wasn’t taking into account was debut writer/director J.C. Chandor’s ability to impart all that talk with a compellingly eerie sense of gravity, making this the best straight-up drama of the year.
The Rules it Drove Home:
- Every Main Character Must be Volatile: Quinto and Badgley go to say good-bye to Tucci, but they’re really just checking that their own jobs are secure. After an awkward moment, they let him get on the elevator and Penn excuses himself… …but then Quinto decides to try again with a more sincere farewell. Only at this point does Tucci takes pity on him and leave him a copy of the new risk model. This story doesn’t just land in our hero’s lap, it happens because he takes a stop that his colleague wouldn’t take.
- Hey, look, it’s yesterday’s rule, Make the Backstory Ironic: I fell in love with this movie when big boss Jeremy Irons quizzed Quinto about where he came from. We find out that, rather than being a trained stock analyst, Quinto started out as an actual rocket scientist, then jumped into finance because the money was so much better. Not only does this give Quinto an ironic backstory, it reveals the theme of the movie: that our cleverest minds have been set to work cannibalizing America’s wealth, rather than building it up. (Irons’s backstory, on the other hand, is never revealed, because we can basically guess where he came from.)
- Be Incomprehensible: This is a dizzying maelstrom of unexplained jargon, so why doesn’t that ruin the movie? Doesn’t the audience have to understand the options the heroes are juggling, so that we can play along? To a certain extent, yes, but something delightful happens here: We don’t understand the fine print, no, but that allows us to step back and see the broader picture. This is just as well: If they had held our hands and forced the characters to explain themselves every step of the way, then we still wouldn’t have understood any of it, and we have rolled our eyes at how unrealistic that dialogue was. Instead, Chandor relies of the performances of his stellar cast to sell the emotion, even when we don’t understand a word they’re saying.