“Margin Call” opens with a mid level risk manager being let go. He’d been working on something he things is of great importance, but they won’t let him finish it before he is fired. They tell him it is no longer his problem. Before he leaves the building he gives the drive (with contains his work) to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), all he says is to be careful. Sullivan decides to check it out later that day. When he finally figures it out, he realizes that this is huge. The numbers just don’t add up for his particular trading desk anymore, as the liability on their mortgage backed securities now far outweigh the total market capitalization of the entire company. He then quickly calls his new boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), then everything starts to move quickly from there. The movie takes place over a 24 hour period.
“Margin Call” surprised me on many levels. Take the script for example. The movie does a fantastic job at fixing you to the screen as you watch this information unfold before you. You want to know what is happening here. It also makes you think that when this was really all happening, we were all asleep. There is tons of financial talk in this movie, really the whole movie is just that. When this isn’t done right it can come off as tedious, well this isn’t the case in this movie. The financial talk is actually compelling dialog. This is a thriller with lots of suspense, but the suspense comes from words. The dialog is excellent. What also helps the financial talk compelling is the actors. I don’t know how first time director J.C. Chandor got all these great actors to be in his movie.
Kevin Spacey gives a fantastic portrayal as a senior executive who has seen it all before and is finally sick of how the company only focuses on their own intentions and not anyone else. Jeremy Irons can seem quite villainous as the firm head who’s inconsideration and lack of consequence for the average American can make any citizen boil in anger. His performance is delivered with such straightness and subdued power that it puts you at the edge of your seat (his performance is Oscar worthy). Zachary Quinto (who was also one of the producers of the movie) shows his potential as an upcoming actor as he delivers a good performance as the intern who manages to crack the code. Being shoved up into the executive world in a matter of hours make him the easiest to side with as we are introduced to this as well, it is survival of the fittest. Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, and Penn Badgely all give great performances too. There is not a single weak link in the cast.
With so many big stars in the movie, it could be easy to forget about a few, or just drop the ball on their character near the end. This has happened quite a bit in the past, and just recently with “Contagion”. But here they are all given their appropriate amount of screen time, and their characters are given a good enough closure.
Even if you don’t know about all this stuff, J.C. Chandor’s (he deserves a great deal of credit for directing and writing the movie) movie is so smartly played and convincingly tense, you get everything, and you understand all the emotions going around. The script was handled perfectly. The direction was very good, but could have used some tweaking here and there. It is remarkable though that J.C. Chandor did this well in his first movie. I am eager to see what he does next. If this is not his one-hit wonder, then he has a bright future.
This movie blows every other financial thriller in recent time out of the water (“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps I’m looking at you). You know what, “Margin Call” is the best movie about finance ever made. It has outstanding performances, a great script, good directing, great human characters, it’s not dumb down, it’s interesting, it can be deep at times, and most importantly, it’s not boring. While not perfect, it is pretty darn close.