Margin Call

In the financial world 24 little hours can make a big difference.  Though this is fiction it is based on the most recent economic collapse the U.S. went through.  If this is in anyway close to the truth it was scarier for me than recent excellent documentary narrated by Matt Damon Inside Job about the same collapse.  J.C. Chandor’s (first film), writer and director, film shows that the people in the high up positions are idiots, who don’t seem to really understand the industry they work in.  And these are the people we trust with our money?  Scary!

It is a rough day at a New York investment bank.  On the trading floor a large amount of employees are being let go.  In a shocking move, including one of the senior risk management men, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci – The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger).  Junior employees Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley – from television’s Gossip Girl) and Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto – from television’s Heroes) are like deer in the headlights as they have never gone through something like this before.  Senior trader Will Emerson (Paul Bettany – A Beautiful Mind, Iron Man) tells them to keep their heads down and continue working.

Peter cannot and so he says he is truly sorry to Eric Dale as he is being escorted out the door by security.  Just as the elevator doors are about to close on Eric he tells Peter, a former rocket scientist who moved into the financial arena due to the larger earning potential, that he was working on something as they fired him.  He gives Peter a USB key and tells him to be careful with it.

After work a group of employees including Seth and Will are going out to celebrate the fact that they still have jobs.  Seth asks Peter to come, but he says that he still has work to do.  While the others are out drinking Peter works on the material that Eric left him on the USB.  After a few hours he has completed what Eric started and is shocked.  He calls Seth and tells him to bring Will back to work.  After Will sees what Peter has done he calls his boss, the head of trading Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey – Horrible Bosses, American Beauty), and tells him to come back to work.

After a late night meeting with all the senior employees such as Jared Cohen (Simon Baker – from television’s The Mentalist) and head of risk management Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore – Ghost, A Few Good Men).  They realize the direness of the situation and call in company CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons – from television’s In Borgias).  A decision is made for radical action.

A great ensemble cast who show how to deliver well written dialogue.  No one is the “star” of the film and not a one seems to care.  They all pull together in the same direction to create a quality picture.  This is the best stuff from Kevin Spacey in years.  It reminded me of what a capable actor he is in the right film.  Pretty much the same thing can be said for Paul Bettany.  He has done some stinkers lately like Priest and Legion (what’s with the zombie/apocalypse films, Paul?) that completely obscured the fact that the guy can act.  It is films like The Young Victoria and this one that bring back to the front that there is great talent there.  Stanley Tucci, though it is a relatively small part, is his usual excellent self.  The guy makes an impression no matter what type of film he is in.  Drama, comedy, doesn’t matter as this guy can do it all.  Jeremy Irons has another small, but important, part that is a flashy one.  He doesn’t go too over-the-top and keeps it reigned in and realistic.

J.C. Chandor hypothesizes about the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis in the United States that was so large that they are still trying to recover from it in 2012.  We are like flies on the wall witnessing the brink of the disaster and as such it is tension filled and scintillating without using fights, car chases or explosions.  Chandor’s film doesn’t have any clear good guys (Sam? He goes through with something he knows is wrong for the good of the company) or bad guys (Tuld? Just doing what he has always done).  Each character has different motivations for how they handle the disastrous situation.  Chandor posits the theory that the higher ups in the financial industry are as ignorant as the rest of us about what is going on and that was part of the reason for the crash.  This is a thought that kept many an investor up late at night and is now confirmed in Margin Call.  After all is said and done what is Chandor’s greatest accomplishment in his film is that he still makes us come out of the film seeing that bankers/traders are humans underneath it all.

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