I liked Margin Call so much that I would pay to see it again. A drama inspired by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, it focuses on a fictional account of a US-based financial company on the eve of its meltdown.
Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) is an entry-level analyst whose boss, (Stanley Tucci), having been fired in a huge company culling, leaves in Sullivan’s hands an unfinished project and the ominous warning, “be careful”.
He stays back late to work on the figures and comes to a startling revelation, causing him to call his friend (Penn Badgley) and their supervisor (Paul Bettany) who then calls in his boss (Kevin Spacey) and the domino effect continues as an emergency meeting is held with slippery company heavyweights (Demi Moore and Simon Baker).
Just when you think this is it, the big boss, CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) is helicoptered in and must decide the course of action the company will take in the face of its inevitable downfall, come daylight. The unscrupulous Tuld clearly favours self-preservation but there are many shades of grey as the other characters vary in their motives and integrity.
An electrifying confrontation between the standouts that are Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons’ characters, sums up what’s at stake. Saving themselves will (and does) destroy the market but that is what they set out to do.
It’s easy to vilify these characters and the human counterparts that inspired them but producer and star Zachary Quinto stressed that Margin Call is “…not really about accountability or blame, or raking anyone over the coals. It’s … an examination of the impact that this catastrophe had on these particular characters’ lives.”
What makes it work is that the audience gets an insider’s view through the eyes of the younger characters that are coincidentally thrown into the whole mess. No knowledge of the financial world is required to truly appreciate the drama.
With its fantastic ensemble cast and super sharp screenplay (which received a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination), I really can’t fault Margin Call. It is what it is. If the premise doesn’t excite you, see it for Jeremy Irons, who is out-of-this-world good at being bad, or to savour the talents that are Bettany, Tucci and Spacey as they perform some incredible monologues.
All of this from a first-timer, Director/Writer J.C. Chandor, makes it all the more impressive. Even if it leaves you cold, its timeliness certainly can not be denied. The events that inspired it are not unique and as history repeats itself again and again it is important to catch a glimpse of why.