Title: Margin Call
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Margin Call is another tale showcasing the greed and mindset of Wall Street just a few years ago. This time though, the setting takes place during a 24-hour period when an investment bank learns that their actions may have caused terminal damage to not only themselves – but to the global markets as well. It’s a story that the majority of us already know as the broad strokes of the financial crisis have been depicted ad nauseum in recent flicks (more on those below). What this 105 minute screenplay – written by director J.C. Chandor – is doing slightly different here is to display how the varied level of corporate executives dealt with the unforeseen disaster.
When risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) survives a mass firing on his floor at a high-level investment firm, he unfortunately has to say goodbye to his boss, and mentor, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Eric’s final request is that Peter takes a look at the last project he was working on with the warning of, “Be careful.” Peter immediately begins to go through the file and realizes things are about to get ugly within his historic firm. Still at the office around 11 p.m., he calls in his supervisor Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and his co-worker, Seth (Penn Badgley) – who dropping loads of cash at a swanky club – to confirm his findings. After seeing Peter’s projections, Will then calls in the long-tenured, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey); who doesn’t understand all the technical jargon, but realizes that something major is about to happen.
Sam then goes to the big dogs that are comprised of Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) & Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore). They are at a loss (no pun) when Peter presents his findings and the only thing left to do is call in their billion dollar CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). As Tuld and his team helicopter in at 3 a.m., the strategy on how to handle a cataclysmic scenario turns into a game of who will survive…and how still clear a profit.
The flick comes across different than the others that tackle the financial crisis due to the dialed downed drama. And it almost flows as a stage-play would. Of course there’s a natural interest in what’s happening within the first five minutes of this film, and that rarely happens these days. Usually a piece that isn’t a popcorn blockbuster will ease the viewer into what is unfolding. Especially when there’s a lexicon a good portion of people will not be familiar with. With this story, and how the dialogue between many of the performers listed above is executed from the get-go, one is all ready to go all-in on this whether they like it or not (ironic isn’t it?).
Part of this flick wants to give a glimpse of the lifestyle these Wall Street employees had at the time just before the meltdown. Penn Badgley’s and Paul Bettany’s character are used for this reason as they can be seen frolicking in late night clubs, to discussing their financial portfolio (i.e. how much money they blew on random crap). The majority of this tale takes place in the corporate high-rise as the players mentioned above maneuver between offices and conference rooms during the wee hours of the night. Late arriving characters played by the well-groomed Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons really set the tone and enables this to have just as much intrigue as the films who have tried to accurately portray what went down (Too Big To Fail). These guys also complete the hierarchy and properly show the lifestyle of Quinto and Spacey’s respective characters. It really is quite fascinating – even with the lack of suspense – whether its depiction is accurate or not.
Certain sequences could draw comparisons to Up In The Air (minus the interpersonal drama). The style has this leaning more toward the recently released The Ides of March, yet Margin Call is more authentic as opposed to that uninspired political scripting which opened a couple weeks ago. Another feature that boasts the same style is The Company Men, but once again, that 2010 flick had the hit-home type of drama the viewer could relate to. This is at times just speaking to the people in the know of the financial sector. All that being said, eventually the subtle suspense weans away, for the climax – all the way to the end – just can’t match the levels set forth in the first & second acts. And furthermore, one may find they are tuning out because they never want to explain in layman’s terms what the heck is going on. We realize they (Wall Street) screwed up but taking some time to educate the viewer on “why?” would have been a nice touch. Still, there are some riveting interactions that mirror something one would see in family-crime dramas.
Overall, Margin Call is attractive thanks to the subject matter and the spot-on performances. Its timing may be a bit tardy and the bland and vague facts in this decently paced delivery has trouble coming together to keep the audience up-to-speed on the details. If anything, the “Occupy Wall Street” people will probably help pad the box office take for the respective studio.
Review by Joe Belcastro