Review: Margin Call
With about as good a cast as you’ll find this year, low budget drama Margin Call proves to be a gripping insight into the situations that caused the recent financial crisis.
Rookie director J.C. Chandor’s film follows the employees of a large investment house (implicitly based on Lehman Brothers), currently going through a period of mass redundancies. Although junior employees Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) and Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) are saved, their boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is fired from the company.
But on his way out of the building he hands Sullivan a USB stick with details of a project he’s been working on. Later that afternoon department head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) invites the remaining staff out to celebrate avoiding being fired, but Sullivan instead investigates the contents of the files he’s been given.
He soon discovers that the company is on the brink of a financial meltdown due to the excessive leverage they had placed on their assets and alerts Emerson to the problem. He quickly contacts his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) and a chain of events is set in motion which will see the biggest investors in the company working through the night to prevent disaster.
There’s an interesting lack of heart to the film, with few of the characters showing any compassion at all. Eric Dale is dispatched rather quickly while the decision to give the hard-nosed Sam Rogers a dying dog is a pretty transparent attempt to create an empathetic character.
Making decisions which could bring about the end of the financial system as we know it, Margin Call is sure to be one of the most thrilling films of the year, even though it largely takes place in a handful of boardrooms, no guns or car chases in sight.
With a gripping story, you can see why such a talented cast were wowed by the writing. Each of them given a chance to scene steal, with the entrance of head of risk Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and later CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) ratcheting up the tension as the film goes on.
The film works as a nice companion piece to recent documentary Inside Job, but whereas that film sought to simply deionise the bankers, here we get a look at the real life reasoning behind their decisions. While prior knowledge of the real-life events is useful, Margin Call avoids being tied up in facts and figures and is a valuable look at the events and attitudes that caused financial meltdown across the globe.