Margin Call (2011)
Rated – R
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany
This film is set in 2008 where a large investment bank is on the brink of disaster. The Firm’s CEO is named John Tuld. There’s no coincidence that the CEO of Lehman Brothers’ name was Dick Fuld. Even with all of the jazzy dialogue, you understand that there is a lot at stake inside the boardroom where they discuss an exit plan to stay above water. Everything is about to come crashing down on The Firm, but they’re willing to burn bridges with a number of their accounts just to survive. It’s ruthless and unethical, but this is how the stock market is run. The entire economy is about to be affected. Do I have your attention?
The film begins with The Firm letting go of 80 percent of their brokers, so they must have suspected some kind of trouble was brewing in paradise, no? The focus is on Eric Dale (Tucci) who hands a USB to Peter Sullivan (Quinto) as he’s exiting the building. “Be careful” is what his last words are. He looks disappointed that he’s being laid-off, but slightly satisfied that The Firm is about to get what they deserve.
After Peter fills the cracks in Dale’s project, it’s revealed that The Firm is on the path to a complete nightmare. Everyone on the chain in command gets a call: from Peter’s boss Will Emerson (Bettany), to Will’s boss Sam Rogers (Spacey), to Sam’s boss Jared Cohen (Baker), then to John Tuld. The movie then spans the following 24 hours of containing their situation to selling all of their worthless assets to anyone who will buy.
I can’t particularly say that I like this film, mainly due to the fact that the film isn’t likeable. The characters are conniving and ruthless and only do what is best for them. Peter’s friend in the firm, Seth, only has one concern on his mind: how much money everyone is making. Will gives a speech about how the “normal people” don’t matter at all, and it’s at their expense that they’re allowed to live in such luxury. The only character you sort of feel for is Sam Rogers. There is a small conscious inside of him and he continues to do what he believes is best for The Firm. But after he’s forced to go along with Tuld’s strategy and motivate his team to perform the “fire sale,” he has been through enough.
Margin Call can, at times, be a bit too wordy but there is such depth in every bit of dialogue that contributes to each character. There is great suspense in the film, which is marvelous for one that doesn’t contain any violence. Even for those who don’t understand anything the film is talking about, you simply feel the tension in the room and believe that it’s the end of the world for these characters.
The only complaint I have about Margin Call is Zachary Quinto’s performance. When put in the same scene as Kevin Spacy, Paul Bettany, and Jeremy Irons, he simply is over-powered and disappears. The expression of disparity from Spacey and urgency from Irons elevates the tone in the film. Quinto is too emotionless to convey the importance throughout the film.