Title: Margin Call
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Sure, it’s awful that we’re still suffering through financial gloom and doom, but, on the bright side, it does make movies like Margin Call all the more compelling. So perhaps that’s a lame attempt at staying optimistic, but if you do have the funds to drop on a weekend movie, it’ll do your hard earned cash some justice.
It’s a rough day at the office, but, lucky for Peter and Seth (Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley), they merely have to watch as co-worker after co-worker is ushered out, cardboard boxes with the trinkets from their desks in hand. However, one of their superiors, company veteran Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), isn’t as fortunate and thanks to his ranking and long-term employment, he’s considered a security risk and is not only escorted off the premises, but must leave every single bit of his work behind. But, just before the elevator doors shut for Eric for good, he manages to slip Peter a thumb drive holding the contents of an important project he was working on.
When the office clears for the day, Peter burns the midnight oil to investigate the information, filling in the holes of Eric’s work. What results is evidence that a piece of the investment firm’s formula for success is faulty and that that error will inevitably drive the company into the ground, taking every employee and potentially the whole economy with it.
Margin Call opens boldly with something sadly the large majority can relate to, being forced to kiss your job goodbye. Writer-director J.C. Chandor takes the innate emotional connection a step further by highlighting the ruthless nature of downsizing in such a competitive environment. One-by-one the members of the company’s risk management department are tapped on the shoulder by stern-faced employee executioners and your heart absolutely sinks as you know exactly what’s coming. From there, Chandor successfully hones that sensation via Tucci’s character, humanizing the event further and therefore, making it even more upsetting.
From there we get new character after new character, a trend that doesn’t really stop until fairly close to the third act. While they’re all relatively successful, Seth and Peter are the most rousing, but perhaps that’s because of our proximity in age. Paul Bettany creates a particularly colorful character, Kevin Spacey’s #2, Will Emerson. Visually, he’s your standard business stiff, but he approaches his work with a cockiness that most certainly justifies his leadership role. On the other hand, not only does his composure crack the slightest under the newfound pressure of the company’s fate, but he’s also revealed to be a bit of a moral man. The combination makes Will an endlessly intriguing player in this game and someone that’s necessary to keep an eye on.
Spacey finds success in his role, too, but Sam Rogers, the head of risk management, is more of a straight shooter as is Demi Moore’s Sarah Robertson. Both Sam and Sarah stay in line throughout the film, always acting accordingly to the version of their characters that are presented from the very start. But, with such an incomparable event at the film’s core, that consistency is somewhat necessary. Jeremy Irons finds himself in a similar situation with his character, John Tuld, the company head who swoops in via helicopter. Irons shines in a boardroom scene during which he evokes an eerie combination of providing the sense that he can take care of this problem while also being downright terrifying. The only character who falls to the wayside and is rather unmemorable is Simon Baker as another top-level employee, Jared Cohen. This is no fault of Baker’s as he simply has much less time in the spotlight.
Regardless, Chandor’s ability to include so many characters and have almost every single one make an impression is quite commendable. Chandor also deserves a great deal of credit for his script structure and dialogue. One of Margin Call’s most rousing assets is that the whole story takes place in a mere 24 hours and mostly in the confines of the office building. The tightness spatially and time-wise functions to make you feel what the characters are feeling, like you’re right in there beside them.
And, it’s this connection that helps transcend all of the financial jargon and makes Margin Call accessible to just about anyone. Chandor does keep the details to a minimum, however, there’s more than enough mathematical and economical talk to give off the impression that everyone here really knows what he or she is talking about. While this is key to selling the story, it does leave the viewer, or at least the less financially savvy folks, in the dark at points. As someone who prefers to completely understand every little detail, it’s a bit frustrating when Peter launches into his explanation of the faulty pieces to the formula, but still, there’s more than enough information that sinks in to let you understand and enjoy the film.
You wouldn’t think an office-set financial story could be labeled a thriller, but Margin Call certainly earns the classification. The pace is swift and the piece is incredibly tense from beginning to end. Plus, in addition to leaving you with something to think about in terms of the fate of our economy, Margin Call also gives us a very talented first-time feature writer-director who will most definitely have a solid career ahead of him.