The wounds from the 2008 financial crisis are reopened, plus reasons for the present Occupy Wall Street movement are further ingrained thanks to a star-studded indie set in a fictional investment bank, but imitating some real-life drama. Margin Call is a pretty gutsy venture—not just as the feature film debut for writer-director J.C. Chandor, but also for the subject at hand and for how close it’ll hit some folks politically. As for the storytelling and execution of the movie itself, however, a few glaring weak links are hard to overcome.
Margin Call follows a group of employees and executives at one New York City firm over a chaotic 24-hour period, amidst layoffs, shocking discoveries, and immense pressure. One of these layoffs is risk management employee Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who hands off a USB drive to entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and warns him to “Be careful.” Peter soon discovers why, when he, fellow analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), and senior trader Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) look over the numbers and see that the firm will soon suffer a catastrophic loss. This shoots off a panic and spreads across the upper tiers of the hierarchy, sending top execs Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), and Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) into an all-night meeting and the CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) from a helicopter and into the office. With the next trading period dawning upon them very quickly, the bank must make take its chances to save itself and their counterparties from incredible disaster.
Margin Call the film could be a disaster itself, but some fine performances, stylish cinematography, an eerie score, and a remarkable ability to capture the insanity of staying sane salvages it. Actually, Margin Call is a really good film. But its largest problems are in its piling on of too many unnecessary and underdeveloped characters, and in creating a dull and difficult-to-understand script. Both are easier to pick at rather than all of its strong points. Moreso than the characters, the screenplay simply could have been friendlier for some of us folks whose strong suits aren’t in business, economics, and numbers. For those people, enjoying the film can be a little difficult.
However, everyone will be able to appreciate the risky and stylistic approach to the story of financial terror. Viewers will be able to feel the doom and the gloom as the employees ponder their moralities and what they’re about to do and not do. While it’s a fairly one-sided tale, from the perspective of Wall Street, it is definitely interesting to experience it from their point of view. In a talented but underused ensemble, the seasoned Spacey and Irons are the standouts–particularly Spacey, whose Rogers has the most curious and fascinating background along with bonus side notes about a pet dog.
An essential pick for those highly interested in the financial crisis and the activities of the stock market, Margin Call delivers chilling intensity in a modern setting and situation. It’s a great filmmaking effort to respect all across the board, but to fully enjoy it may simply be an acquired taste.