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Sundance Spotlights Spacey’s Wall Street Boss, Al Pacino’s Cop

Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey in "Margin Call." Spacey plays an executive at a troubled Wall Street investment firm during the early days of the economic meltdown. Photographer: Jojo Whildon/Prodigy Public Relations via Bloomberg

Two movies about the financial crisis -- a drama starring Kevin Spacey and a documentary featuring Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz -- will be showcased at the Sundance Film Festival opening today in Utah.

In “Margin Call,” Spacey plays an executive at a troubled Wall Street investment firm during the early days of the economic meltdown. “The Flaw,” directed by British filmmaker David Sington, explores the causes of the crisis through interviews with leading economists, Wall Street insiders and victims of the Great Recession.

Another Sundance entry with a business angle is Morgan Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” a documentary about the impact of marketing and advertising on U.S. society. Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) highlights the issue by trying to make a film entirely financed by product placements and other corporate promotional techniques.

“Margin Call” and “The Flaw” are the latest films to stem from the economic crisis, following last year’s release of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” “Inside Job” and “The Company Men.”

“It seems to be on everyone’s mind,” Sundance director John Cooper said in a telephone interview. “You can’t get away from it because it’s always in the news. Plus, it makes for good drama.”

This year’s festival, which runs through Jan. 30 in Park City and three other Utah sites, includes 118 feature-length films from 29 countries.

Pacino, Linney

While some have big-name actors like Al Pacino (playing a corrupt cop in “The Son of No One”), Laura Linney (a lovelorn neighbor in “The Details”) and Pierce Brosnan (a charismatic preacher in “Salvation Boulevard”), Cooper has tried to steer the glitzy festival back to its modest indie roots since becoming director in 2009.

“It’s not that I’m looking for movies without stars,” Cooper said. “I just look for good movies, whether they have stars or not.”

This year’s list of directors includes Kevin Smith (“Red State”) and Kelly Reichardt (“Meek’s Cutoff”), whose first feature films were shown at Sundance in 1994.

The movie website IMDB describes “Red State” as “a horror film in which a group of misfits encounter fundamentalism gone to the extreme in Middle America.” “Meek’s Cutoff” tells the story of three pioneer families on the Oregon Trail in 1845.

Actress Vera Farmiga makes her directing debut in “Higher Ground,” where she stars as a devout woman who starts to question her fundamentalist beliefs.

Reagan, Fischer

Among the notable documentaries are Eugene Jarecki’s “Reagan,” Liz Garbus’s “Bobby Fischer Against the World” and “Becoming Chaz,” which chronicles the gender transformation of Sonny and Cher’s only child from female to male.

“In a Better World” is the latest from Danish director Susanne Bier, whose “After the Wedding” (2006) received an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language picture. Her new movie is about two schoolboys who hatch a revenge plot, and the impact it has on their families.

Other non-U.S. films include Belgium’s “The Devil’s Double,” based on the true story of an Iraqi soldier who was ordered to become Uday Hussein’s body double; the U.K.’s “Tyrannosaur,” about the relationship between a violent, self-destructive man and a charity-shop worker; and Japan’s “Abraxas,” a drama about a former punk-rocker who is now a Buddhist monk.

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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