Margin Call, 2011.
Directed by J.C. Chandor.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci.
When entry level analyst Peter Sullivan begins to unlock information at a large New York financial house, he sets off a chain of events with life changing implications for staff, bosses and the world at large…
An edgy and enjoyable thriller set in the world of big business and the financial industry, Margin Call is a clearly thought out and steely eyed gaze at the roots of the global recession. With strong performances from an ensemble cast of newcomers and experienced performers, the film is a gripping look into the roots of the international monetary crisis.
Set in 2008, the film follows super-smart 28 year old analyst Peter Sullivan’s (Zachary Quinto) findings when completing a task began by his recently dismissed boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). His findings alarm his superiors so greatly that a 24 hour period of panic, recrimination and regret is set in place.
Kevin Spacey’s long serving boss Sam Rogers (34 years with company) shares terse scenes with his immediate underling Will Emerson (a sharp Paul Bettany) and as the stress levels threaten to go through the roof, a believable real life horror fills the frame.
The opening introductory segment of office rumours and Chinese whispers sets up the film beautifully as the entire firm wonders who is about to get the boot. As it turns out, Tucci’s Dale(19 years at the company) is amongst the number. After a terrifying dismissal speech from a minion and details of his desultory redundancy package, Dale could be said to be somewhat miffed.
Just before he is shown the door, with the words “be careful”, he hands a USB stick containing the project he has been working on to acolyte and star pupil Peter, who struggles over it all evening – even turning down a boozy night out with colleagues to decipher the cryptic financial code partially uncovered by his former mentor.
When he informs his best friend at the firm Seth (Penn Badgley) and their newly immediate superior Emerson about the findings – which even to someone with zero economics knowledge are very bad – a period of unrest and uncertainty begins which drags everyone from top to bottom into its orbit.
Soon the boss of bosses, John Tuld (a marvellously oily Jeremy Irons), is informed about the situation and, in the wake of 80% of staff cuts, he holds a crisis meeting.
An interesting metaphor within the film is that of Mr Rogers’ sick pet Labrador and his worry over its health. He is paying a $1000 a day to keep his furry friend alive and it is clear to all that it cannot go on forever. Much like the rampant greed, ‘creative’ salary allowances and reckless stock broking culture that caused the worldwide mess in the first place, the dog is plainly on the way out.
An important and fascinating indication of where it all went wrong, Margin Call is a boardroom thriller that brings the audience straight into the nefarious dealings of 2008.
Also featuring strong cameo support from Demi Moore and Simon Baker, Margin Call is a well executed thriller that makes you extremely glad to not work in the world of financial risk assessment – and if you do, you might just feel like a movie star.
Extras: Making of, deleted scenes, interviews with cast and crew, gallery.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.