Chandor dispassionate and direct
Vivid dialogue and action reveal exactly how the crisis might have happened. Writer-director Chandor captures every nuance objectively. His father was a Merrill Lynch executive.
Margin Call complements Wall Street, where Michael Douglas fills the screen with charismatic greed, and Inside Job, the Oscar winning documentary explaining the meltdown.
Spacey and cast incredible
Kevin Spacey gives one of his best performances as Sam Rogers, a world-weary trading manager who frets over his ailing Labrador. After a massive layoff, Sam congratulates the survivors. “Now they’re gone,” he says. “They’re not to be thought of again.”
Impeccably acted, Margin Call has the power of a play. Actors enter and exit. They face one another and themselves. They maneuver. They lie.
Trapped in a glass tower of offices, each holds self-preservation dear. Frank DeMarco’s cinematography ranges from stark to shadowy.
Delusions of capitalism
Concerned but not caring, the bankers learn about the impending crash from junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a former M.I.T. rocket scientist. Laid off risk analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) alerted Peter before he left.
Peter is horrified to discover that the firm is fatally over-committed to risky loans. It has 24 hours to exploit this knowledge – or lose trillions. The tale is loosely based on the now-defunct Lehman Brothers.
Worldwide recession unleashed
Owners arrive by helicopter in the night. Each minute is precious. Decisions must be made. Jeremy Irons plays ruthless CEO John Tuld. “Be first. Be smarter. Or cheat,” is his motto. Tuld orders the sell-off.
Self-interest has many faces. They’re providing for their families. They’re living the American dream. They’re hooked on big thrills and bigger risk. Nathan Larson’s score deepens dread.
Chilling and sad, Margin Call is precise and efficient. The players move like automatons. Watching them, you’ll ask yourself, “What would I have done?”
Time for self-reflection
Demi Moore is exquisitely cagey as Chief Risk Manager Sarah Robertson. She reminds Tuld that she did warn the firm repeatedly. Still, heads must roll, he tells her.
Also excellent are Paul Bettany as charismatic playboy and manager Will Emerson; and The Mentalist’s Simon Baker as terse, unsmiling leader Jared Cohen.
Tucci is marvelous in a scene on a Brooklyn Heights stoop. Eric tells Will about his engineering career. He once built a bridge that saved drivers commuting time. He yearns to do something real again, to find rewarding, meaningful work.
Regrets catch up with Sam
Pain and angst eats away at Sam. He hates who he has become. He delivers one final speech to his team, urging them to sell worthless, mortgage-backed securities for million dollar bonuses.
True empathy is never shown in Margin Call, except by Sam for his dog.
Friends with benefits
Fuld coaxes Sam to stay on for awhile. There’s still plenty of dough to be made. Sam confesses: “I need the money.”
In a David Mamet-inspired moment, Peter asks Sam if he’s told his own son about the impending crash. “No, I … didn’t even think …” Sam sputters. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Margin Call, you might enjoy: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; Casino Jack.
Margin Call 2011 / R / 1 hour, 45 min
Cast Overview: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Director: J.C. Chandor
Genre: Drama, History