Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Tower Heist vs. Margin Call



Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Tower Heist vs. Margin Call, two movies with big, star-studded casts, both of which are banking (ha!) on the idea that you want to see a movie about the 2008 financial meltdown.



Tower Heist and Margin Call are both ensemble pictures focusing on a group of employees whose lives are affected by the financial meltdown, and both are at least somewhat inspired by true events—but the two films address the subject in very different ways. Tower Heist is an action-comedy about a group of employees who work for a Bernie Madoff-style swindler. When he’s released into house arrest and his employees discover that their pensions were all tied up in his fraudulent investments, one of them hatches a scheme to steal from his $20 million or so in remaining assets. To do this, he enlists the help of an experienced thief who was, apparently, his friend at daycare. Margin Call is a little more serious—it’s a drama that takes place over the course of 24 hours at one of the mega-investment banks in 2008. Some of the firm’s younger employees discover that some shady business has been going down, and Simon Baker informs Demi Moore that some kind of equation was wrong, and Zachary Quinto says something about how if 25% of assets are lost, that’s more than “the current market capitalization of this entire company.” (Yeah, okay, guy. We’ll take your word for it.) Then some books are scrubbed of some damning information, and presumably, boom! Financial crisis, and it’s all Jeremy Irons’ fault. We’re going to give this one to Tower Heist because it’s a creative-ish revenge fantasy that might—just might!—end with the triumph of the working man. Having lived through 2009, we’re pretty sure we know how Margin Call ends, and it’s just a bummer all around. Advantage: Tower Heist

Both of these movies are packed to the brim with stars who are not quite A-list, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they used to be very bankable, but aren’t so much anymore (Tower Heist‘s Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller, Margin Call‘s Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore); maybe they’re still up-and-coming (Tower Heist‘s Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe; Margin Call‘s Penn Badgley and Zachary Quinto); and maybe they’ve just languished for a while in a sort of B+ list purgatory (Tower Heist‘s Téa Leoni and Matthew Broderick, Margin Call‘s Paul Bettany and Simon Baker). We like a lot of these actors very much! In the obligatory smart-brunette-lady roles, Téa Leoni and Demi Moore are pretty evenly matched. We think Casey Affleck is supremely underrated, and we’d be happy to see him in anything—but the same is true of Stanley Tucci! It’s truly a draw. Advantage: Tie

This is difficult! We were totally ready to give it to whomever directed Margin Call, because we have heard that Tower Heist‘s Brett Ratner is such a jerk. But Margin Call is J. C. Chandor’s first feature—his IMDb page is painfully short. Say what you will about Ratner, but he’s definitely proven his mettle in Hollywood, what with all three Rush Hour movies plus an X-Men installment and some others to boot. The man makes movies, and they make money. Advantage: Tower Heist

Catalytic Plot Points
In Margin Call, Zachary Quinto finds out that his company is about to cause the financial crisis (or we assume that’s what he finds out, at least) because of a flash drive Stanley Tucci hands him on the way out of the building after being fired. This, we think, is somewhat realistic! Just the other day, someone we know gave a friend a press copy of a CD on a flash drive, which is basically the music-critic version of this exact same thing. In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller enlists Eddie Murphy’s help with robbing his boss by bailing him out of prison, which seems kind of unwise, right? Like, once the police start investigating into Alan Alda’s missing $20 million, aren’t they going to include his staff as possible suspects, and isn’t it going to seem suspicious that a member of his staff bailed a known thief out of prison? Or did he do it anonymously, somehow? Too many questions for what should just be exposition. Advantage: Margin Call 

Evil Finance Guy One-Liners
Both movies feature strong ensembles—in Tower Heist, it’s just a bunch of good, hardworking Americans; while most of Margin Call‘s bank employees are operating in a slightly more murky ethical situation. However, in each event, one respected old actor emerges as definitely the most evil guy in the movie. In Tower Heist, it’s obviously the Madoff-inspired character, played by Alan Alda; in Margin Call, it’s the guy in charge of the investment bank, played by Jeremy Irons. They each get at least one priceless (har har!) one-liner in their respective movies’ trailers. For Alda, it’s this little gem: “And, Enrique, one other thing: I may have my own private island in Belize, but deep down, I’m just an Astoria boy like Josh here!” It’s funny because it’s exactly the kind of thing privileged people say without realizing how offensive it is! Irons’ line is more serious: “There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat!,” he declares. Because he delivers the line with perfect force, and because our reflexive fear of Jeremy Irons stretches back to The Lion King and will end never, we’re giving this one to him. Advantage: Margin Call

Decadence Porn
There are a few moments of indulgence in the Margin Call trailer: at 0:45, Penn Badgley is clearly at a club when Quinto calls him to come back in (hey, we’ve seen Badgley in very similar contexts!), and Zachary Quinto hits a strip club around 1:33.  At 1:53, Irons eats alone at a very expensive-looking white-tablecloth restaurant. (Per Se, anyone?) But he doesn’t seem happy about it. None of them do! By contrast, at 0:36 in Tower Heist‘s trailer, Alan Alda across a rooftop lap pool with a photo of a hundred-dollar bill emblazoned on the bottom, and he seems perfectly happy about it. It’s ballsy and funny—particularly for people who took a weird interest in those auctions of the stupid, random crap Bernie Madoff spent his money on. (Not that, uh, that includes us or anything.) Plus, the visual joke of him swimming in the pool as shot from above—which looks a little like the hundo is being slowly torn in half—is very good indeed. Advantage: Tower Heist

The Verdict
Okay, so we’ll say that this many Oscar winners and nominees (and, um, Badgley) probably wouldn’t have signed on for Margin Call if it were a bad movie. It looks like a good movie—taut, thoughtful, stylish. But we’re forced to wonder what it might be saying that, for example, Too Big to Fail didn’t. Tower Heist is a goofy, outsized populist fantasy, sure. But in these harsh times, isn’t that sort of what we need? Winner: Tower Heist