Margin Call

Independent drama outlines the chain of events over a 24 hour period after a startling discovery is made at a global financial services firm. Timely production utilizes the background of the actual 2008 financial crisis and fashions a fictional account of what happens when an analyst discovers sensitive information that threatens to derail the future of the fiscal institution – not Lehman Brothers, mind you, but an enterprise very much like them. Basically the company has discovered that they’re riddled with financial assets whose value has fallen so significantly as to be essentially worthless.

Well written, overly intellectual script, is educational almost at the expense of excitement. Director J.C. Chandor has a unique insight into the world of traders. His father worked on Wall Street for Merrill Lynch for more than 35 years and he drew on those experiences to fashion this story. Understanding what all the hubbub is about is fairly important to enjoying this movie. There’s actually a scene where Jeremy Irons asks Zachary Quinto playing a young analyst, to break down the intricate monetary entanglement “as you would to a small child.”  I still didn’t completely understand the explanation. It’s as if we’re really eavesdropping on genuine confidential financial discussions. The screenwriter’s failure to “dumb it down” is commendable I suppose. Although I didn’t fully comprehend the jargon, I was entertained by the parade of acting talent.

What I found rather unexpected was the script’s evenhanded approach regarding the various movers and shakers at the Wall Street firm. Greed is definitely the underlying theme, but the script engenders a certain amount of sympathy too. There’s a bit of justifiable self preservation involved. An incredible cast really brings the sophisticated script to life: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci who portrays a recently fired risk analyst. If there’s someone we feel for the most, it’s his character. He makes investment bankers seem almost sensitive in this age of villainy. The fact that the script doesn’t solely demonize the principals, is remarkably unconventional.

The economic meltdown of a bank is not a typical subject for entertainment. At times the drama can be a bit studious. The feature unfolds through conversations in boardrooms, staring at computer screens. By now, you should know whether the subject will hold adequate interest for you. I’ll confirm the script was sufficiently intelligent to keep me interested and the high powered cast added significantly to the material. The subject has a current relevance given the recent Occupy Wall Street movement that has emerged nationwide. The subject couldn’t be more well-timed. But the crisis depicted doesn’t seem intense or savage enough to generate the necessary enthusiasm. As an indictment of corporate greed, Margin Call is an instructional account that generates little more than restrained admiration.

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4 Responses to “Margin Call”

  1. I consider myself an intelligent person but I do not understand finance AT ALL. Like you say in your review, even if they “dumb it down”, I’m still drawing a blank. The cast should keep me interested, though. It looks amazing.

  2. Absolutely loved this film. Smart, tense and with a fantastic cast, what I loved most was the setting. Empty offices lit by banks of computer monitors inside and the lights of New York on the outside. You just got the feeling that this was something that could not wait until tomorrow! A commendable screenplay and film for a first time major feature director.

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