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DVD Review: Margin Call

November 5, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Set around the start of the 2008 financial crash, Margin Call is a snapshot of a 24 hour period in a Wall Street investment bank that has just discovered that its past misdemeanours are about to catch up with them. In amongst the bank callously cutting staff, including long-standing staff members such as Head of Risk Management Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), young investment banker-cum-rocket scientist Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) discovers that the company’s future is at huge risk. Continuing Eric’s work from a USB he gave him after his shock departure, in as simple terms as possible, Peter calculates that due to the company’s trading history, the value of the bank’s stock is set to decrease to such a level that would be greater than the value of the company; the result? As we all well know, global financial meltdown. The news gradually filters to the upper echelons of the bank’s hierarchy as the panic spreads, as Will (Paul Bettany), Sam (Kevin Spacey), Sarah (Demi Moore), Jared (Simon Baker) and finally CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) try to assess how to save the company in an all-night meeting.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s début feature does not so much deal with the aftermath of the day of the crash, but paints a gripping picture of the immediate events that lead up to it. It is to his credit that he has created a movie that can encapsulate a viewer who may have no idea about investment banking. Make no mistake, there is plenty of financial jargon throughout the movie and pieces of the jigsaw may not fall into place until midway through the narrative, but it is such a remarkable story that you want to keep watching, despite knowing the outcome. Having said that, there is perhaps a feeling at the end that there are still too many questions unanswered – but then this is in keeping with real-life events.

The characters are not particularly likeable but they are fascinating portraits of people who may be found in this environment. Though Tucci’s Eric does evoke empathy from the viewer after his early job-loss, Irons’ John Tuld is a cold individual whose priority is greed and self-preservation. Chandor is telling us that there is no innocence within this world; the bloodshed of the 2008 crash, the effects of which are still being felt today, is clearly in the hands of everyone on the floors of these offices.

The performances are as good as can be expected from such a stellar cast, with Spacey and Irons, perhaps unsurprisingly, being the stand-out performers, whilst Zachary Quinto continues to add to his ever-growing reputation as one of the finest young actors around. Chandor’s direction is commendable, with some lingering shots over the New York City cityscape at times breathtaking and beautiful.

Overall, Margin Call is a fascinating snapshot of the build-up to the financial crisis of 2008 that we are all still reeling from. It is revealing and educational, though by the end you may feel it lacks any real bang or wallop to accompany the crash.

Greg Waller.