Review: Margin Call

Written & Directed By: J.C. Chandor

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci

Rating:   Running Time: 107 mins

Based on true events, Margin Call follows 24 hours in a fictional Wall Street investment bank (loosly based on investment bank Lehman Brothers) during the financial collapse of 2008. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) plays the part of Peter Sullivan, a junior risk analyst at a firm during a series of mass staff layoffs. Though he is not laid off during the cuts, his boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is not so lucky, and after clearing his desk out, on his way out of the building hands Peter a USB stick with an unfinished project he had been working on, telling him to take a look at it and ‘be careful’.

Later that night, after everyone has left for the day, and intrigued by Eric’s warning, Peter looks into the USB stick’s contents and begins work on finishing Eric’s project. After several hours, he is successful in completing it, and calls fellow junior risk analyst Seth (Penn Badgley) and senior sales agent Will (Paul Bettany), who had gone to a nightclub, back into the office to inform them of an alarming discovery. Based on historic market patterns, which the firm uses to decide which shares to buy, if the shares were to suffer a 25% drop, the cost of the loss would be more than the firm is worth. Will brings in the firm’s head of sales Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who in turn brings the alarming news to his superiors and so on, all of which come in for an emergency meeting where the board of the company, headed by CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), decides on a drastic plan to try and prevent this from destroying the company.

Margin Call is a movie about a touchy subject given the current financial circumstances of the country (which may be indirectly a result of similar events that took place in 2008), but surprisingly does not come accross as such. Instead, what should be depressing turns out to be a thoroughly engrossing piece of drama, essentially crossed with elements of a disaster movie, and works in no small part to a fantastic cast including Spacey, Bettany, Irons, Tucci and Quinto, as well as solid writing and direction from J.C. Chandor (making his feature film directorial debut). Chandor manages to make the characters feel like real people, with all their quirks, who find themselves in the w0rst situation they could imagine, realising the effects it will have on theirs and the financial world’s future.

He also manages to take the financial details of the goings on at Wall Street and through these characters, explains the problem in a way that is not only entertaining, but is easy to follow and understand without giving the viewer a headache. This is not a movie about the state of the market, but more about the people dealing with the state of it, with the dramatic tension between the characters as they discuss the situation and their decisions for how to resolve it being the centre of it. All the while, being aware of the ticking clock as the time approaches when Wall Street will open for trading.

The whole of the cast gives such a great performance that it really is an ensamble piece, though Quinto, as the first person to realise what is going on and the ramifications it will have for the firm and the market, does carry a large part of the first third of the movie. The only problem with the movie is the ending, as it follows Spacey’s character and ends with him dealing with a personal issue, which feels unnecessary, although it shows his personal turmoil over the day’s events, and even results in an air of unintentional laughter as the scene fades to black (largely because the scene doesn’t stop when the credits roll, and we can just hear the scene as it continues before music finally begins to play over the credits). It also feels as though, given the movie’s basis in real events, that some kind of end note is missing, explaining what happened next to the firm (though it is a fictional firm, it would have been easy to put up one or two paragraph explenation of what happened next to the company, and the effect it had on the financial status of the world’s economy), just to give the story a bit more closure.

Don’t let that discourage you from seeking out this movie, which should be enjoyed by anyone old enough to see it (the movie is rated 15 for heavy swearing throughout, but aside from that, had the swearing been toned down, the movie would have easily received a 12A rating – but at 12A, the audience may not find it to their moviegoing tastes), I for one look forwards to seeing it again, especially for some great moments where you have all cast members around a single table. Never before has investment banking been so interesting to watch.

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Posted on January 16, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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