I saw this corporate drama last month in New York, just after attending a conference about managing financial risk (which, coincidentally, is one of the film's themes). The head of risk at the bank in this story is played by Demi Moore, who acquits herself well in a very strong ensemble alongside Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, and others. Based on the events at the start of the financial meltdown of 2008, the film isn't so much about the technical details about what it meant for a bank's assets to be suddenly realised to be worthless, but wisely concentrates instead on the human drama as the characters react to the disaster, and try and deal with it.
Beginning with Zachary Quinto's careful, respectful junior analyst who uncovers the problem, the viewer is drawn into an escalating series of encounters with his superiors, which culminates in a board meeting helmed by the bank's authoritative, adept CEO played by Jeremy Irons. This is a brilliantly nuanced portrayal by Irons: just watch the way he tries to calm the analyst's nerves with a self-deprecating remark whilst he testily flicks at the corner of his damning report. He's also compellingly watchable in his meetings with the experienced, exhausted trading manager (another compelling performance by Kevin Spacey), and in a short encounter with Demi Moore, whom he effectively crushes in spite of her brave attempts at resistance.
Filmed on a limited budget over a few weeks (mostly in an office in a midtown Manhattan high-rise which had recently been vacated by a trading firm), the camera is closely focussed on the actors and what they have to say. Since they're so skilled, and the story is so compelling (even though we think we already know what's going to happen), the result is a richly satisfying viewing experience.
Must admit I missed this film when released on Blu-ray/DVD, I usually pick-up
on 'Kevin Spacey' movies.
(Saw a trailer when watching a movie a couple of days back)
The film is set in the 'dog eat dog' world of business dealings (stocks and shares)
on 'Wall Street' where money can be gained or lost with a blink of an eye.
During the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis, an operative unlocks information
that could finish the firm.
After an all night consultation when the seriousness of the situation is realized, a
frantic race to advert financial melt-down is triggered.
The team have to hold their nerve, having a conscience won't help.
A terrific cast list including 'Kevin Spacey' 'Paul Bettany' 'Jeremy Irons' 'Demi Moore'
and (Mr Spock) 'Zachary Quinto' are on board.
This movie is a 'spell-binding' 'Tense' and 'absorbing' finance driven drama....well
worth a spin
* Audio Commentary: with director 'J.C.Chandor' and 'Ned Dudson'
* Deleted Scenes with optional commentary.
* Revolving Door: The making of 'Margin Call'
* Missed Calls: Moments with cast and crew.
* From the Deck: Photo Gallery.
Other reviews have described the film fairly well; I wanted to comment on the themes.
For me the narrative of the movie is about how its principal players are concerned only by the prosperity of their corporation (played out very well with a sterling cast of actors). There is no sense, or effort shown for the public good. In essence, the message here is that Corporations are amoral, and their existence owes its need to survive and succeed, at any cost. As the cast, play out their respective roles there is reflection, they reflect on the enormity of what is happening: For their company and their lives are being rendered meaningless. While the movie does not depict any one single financial event, or any one financial institution, however, there are `threads' that link this `fictional' account into the real world. This can be exemplified by the 2008 financial crisis: Goldman Sachs and the organisation's efforts to move early to reduce its position in mortgage-backed securities.
A film with no CGI, car chases or amazing fighting sequences. However, it has tension - the frailties of loyalties betrayed. A film that is really worth seeing.
on 1 October 2012
I must say for some reason I wasn't expecting too much from Margin Call despite the awesome cast. I guess I'm angry with the banks and financial companies for what they did and didn't think I'd enjoy watching what went wrong in 2007/8. But I was wrong, the movie blew me away much more than any I can think of for ages. It seems to be very much based on the Lehman Brothers fall but it's not explicitly mentioned to be so. The film reminded me very much of what I liked about The Firm, the original Wall Street and has the general feel of the similar feeling (and also excellent) Michael Clayton. The film gets straight into the action as people are getting fired and builds quickly into the looming threat of the crisis. The direction is very subtle so you really believe what you are seeing and the awesome array of acting talent mean you are really rooting for many of the characters despite what they do for a living. The script and dialogue are both excellent with a Glengarry Glenross feel to a lot of the exchanges. There is one moment that sums up how subtle it is for me. Demi Moore's character is being given some bad news and without even blinking or moving her eyes the slightest bit you can see something die inside her, it's really quite amazing big screen acting and there is not one false note here to be found. If you enjoy very well acted thrillers then give Margin Call a try ASAP, it will also teach a bit more about how these idiots wrecked our economy! Highly recommended.
There is something is amiss in the risk profile of a New York brokerage which is in the midst of "trimming back" staff. As the young analysts (one of them played by Mr Spock) realise the full horror they move up with the news past layer after layer of management, each more dog-eat-dog than the other. It reminded me of working in a Big Four accounting firm; only you know the issue at hand in detail, the others are playing catch-up, not with the issue, but the liability, yet trying to seem in control. There's some vicious fun to be had there. As the escape plan is developed and executed, flocks of chickens come home to roost. The cast really is good, and the sharp distinction of being in (or out) is clearly made. You do need to understand a little about markets but not much.
on 8 March 2014
This film does not attempt to explain how the global financial crisis had occurred. So if you are looking to learn about the specific causes of the 2008 crisis should look elsewhere.
However, this film does a very good job of capturing the sort of personalities you may encounter in an investment banking environment, and the way these people think and act. The dynamics between different personalities, many of whom can be labelled as dysfunctional, as depicted in the film are entirely credible. It provides an insight for those outside the industry as to how a financial crisis can occur, based on the types of people that thrive in that environment.
on 20 March 2013
It's interesting how the reviews on this movie are divided, to be honest I think it comes down to a matter of personal taste not quality. I found the acting to be amazing, a truly ensemble effort, and the story to be riveting. Spacey, Quinto, Irons and Bethany especially stood out but there's not a bad performance in the bunch which is a rare thing indeed. If a tense character study isn't your cup of tea you aren't going to like it, the entire movie takes place in a time span of less than 48 hours and it's the interplay between the different performances that create the excitement.
on 6 November 2014
No sex, no car chases, no bloodshed, lots of talking -- and yet this movie succeeds in gripping the viewer. Its genius, I think, lies in showing us something that is quite familiar -- the anxiety that goes with losing one's job without having done anything to merit being fired -- and putting that familiar anxiety (or fear) in a context that most of us have no direct experience of: the world of high finance, hedge funds, collateralized debt obligations, etc. etc. We like seeing people who are that high on the economic totem pole sweat, and yet because they are not all bad people, the movie enables us to see them as fellow human beings too -- in a tight spot of a kind that many of us can imagine ourselves being in, and not just at the mercy of "the economy" but as suffering the consequences of decisions made much higher up the chain of command than we can ever aspire to. These decisions put the people in the movie in danger -- and yet we know too that when things were going well, these same people were all too happy to benefit from the short-term profitable results of these same decisions. So our attitude towards them is sympathetic, but complicated, in a way that keeps us gripped.
The world of high finance engenders its particular moral dilemmas, and they too are engaging. The firm in question, an investment bank, needs to unload a lot of questionable financial instruments (think of collateralized bad mortgage debt) that threaten in short order to undermine the total capitalization of the firm. The ethical question is -- can and should the firm sell these off to clients who don't yet know that the firm's own projections show that the instruments will be worthless in a very short time? AND if it starts to sell off huge tranches of them, how long ( matter of hours) will it take for the markets, and hence the clients, to cotton to the shakiness of the firm, drive the prices down, and leave the firm, as they say, "exposed" -- and with its reputation for fair dealing in tatters?
These are the issues. Thanks to a great cast, they're absorbingly presented. Stanley Tucci (who is getting fired right at the opening), Kevin Spacey, and Demi Moore are in different positions and at different ranks in the firm, and they want to do "the right thing" (or find a way to convince themselves that they can keep their integrity without ruining the firm). Simon Baker is higher up the food chain, and Jeremy Irons is at the top -- and it's a bit harder to sympathize with them (I'm avoiding spoilers). Good work too from Paul Bettany and Zachary Quinto. J. C Chandor has written a smart, knowing script, and he directs with unflashy efficiency (his dad was fired from Merrill Lynch, we learn in one of the special features). But the acting's the thing -- these guys bring it to life, creating distinct characters and keeping us engaged. Well worth a look.
on 7 December 2012
Margin Call; a film which proves you don't need zombies, breasts and guns to make a film exciting. As the subject matter is dryer than a Martini it's wholly down to an excellent ensembled cast (with more big names that you can shake a stick at) which help keep the viewer engaged in what could have been a rather dull yawn-fest. Mortgage backed securities, derivatives, margin calls; terms which, to be frank, largely went over my head.
The film is a quasi-fictitious documentary depicting the genesis of the 2008 credit crunch. Newly sacked risk manager hands to his junior analyst a risk report he had been working on shortly before being shown the door. Rocket scientist-cum-junior analyst (kid ye not) finishes off the formulas; something to do with financial models and laffer curves - the long and short of it is that the 'value' of their assets have become decoupled from reality such is the genius of the financial sector's jiggery-pokery.
From there it's an anxious weekend drafting in increasingly senior big-guns until the head-honcho (a brilliantly omnipotent Jeremy Irons) has to be called in to contain the situation and formulate an exit strategy before the stock markets re-open on Monday morning. Sure, on paper it hardly sounds like a rivetting story but it did well in cranking up the tension; this isn't just a bank run like It's a Wonderful Life, this a global financial catastrophe in the making and you're watching it unfold - the ultimate calm before the storm (not least with the benefit of hindsight).
As Irons' character points out, boom and bust cycles have been around for centuries and this is no different; the challenge is to get out first and pick up the pieces in the aftermath for small-change. That's what I liked about Margin Call in that it doesn't try to beat the viewer into submission with an 'avarice is evil' meme.
It's certainly not a Saturday-night-in-with-a-pizza film but if you fancy something a little thought-provoking and unique then you could do far worse than this.
This is film making for the kickstarter generation, smart, intelligent with lots of confident swagger. It follows on the American tradition of Death of a Salesman, and Glengarry Glen Ross, with a moral quandary flung at some company men. It is a variation of what must have happened at big financial companies like Lehman Brothers, as the recent financial crisis started to unravel, do you dump your stock on your neighbour, or tough it out to avoid creating a bigger crisis.
Although this is stylishly shot, with a top notch cast, there is relatively little eye candy, so it will not appeal to the popcorn crowd. It is however thoughtful, consistently engaging and well informed. You do get the feeling that this is what it would be like at one of these institutions. The technical detail does not entirely stack up, why would an analyst be hanging around the trading room, and how would selling stock at a knock down price help your capital adequacy ratio, but these are forgivable niggles.
There are a couple of compromises, the characters are all portrayed fairly sympathetically, for shallow overpaid traders, and having Kevin Spacey with his sick dog as a moral centre felt a bit contrived. However for those interested in the financial crisis, this is well worth a watch.