Review: Margin Call (2011)

Director: J. C. Chandor

Starring: Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey

Release Date: 13th January 2012 (UK)

Luckily J. C. Chandor’s Margin Call came out a year before Katniss Everdeen graced our screens, or the all predominantly male cast (minus Demi Moore) would have come in for a serious panning on the sexism front. Such would have been the injustice towards a promising director’s accomplished drama that he may not have proceeded to make the Oscar toured All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year.

Margin Call is set over a 48 hour period in Wall Street in a part-fictionalised depiction of the trigger that sparked the biggest financial crisis in global economic history. Sounds intensely boring, but this is a character drama with some real punch and if the impressive cast is enough to draw you in the story takes no time seizing your complete attention.

As one employee after another proceeds to leave the office with cardboard box in tow, this is not a good day at the office. A large portion of the floor in this ruthless insurance company are being made redundant, and why? Consider it corporate cleansing, a necessary part of life in the world of these millionaire money monsters. Paul Bettany is the ambitious middle manager showing the ropes to a young Zachary Quinto, but some key advice from a departing Stanley Tucci leads to a devastating discovery. Cue about twenty minutes of jargon that only Wall Street’s finest can interpret, but cut short they are on the brink of imploding.

It’s 11pm and Kevin Spacey’s reluctant senior manager – a guy whose disparity between head and heart has taken a cruel toll on his character – leads his not-so-merry men towards the top floor, where an intense and compelling verbal shootout ensues between the top and the bottom.

The story is set at a time that has universal appeal – everyone in every country was affected by the events of the financial crisis, but is not a story about banking so much as a morality tale, one that explores the murky limbo between good and bad, loss and gain, right and wrong. As the war of words intensifies, each character is allowed to develop a nuanced understanding and a personal bias which informs and imbues the argument with meaning and depth. These are guys with a career to save, but at what greater cost?

Profit is a numbers game, but value is what decisions are based on, which Chandor keenly and acutely delves into with a film that is given the perfect backdrop. Quinto, Bettany and Spacey lead a truly terrific and understated ensemble of performances whose lack of wider recognition is a genuine discredit.

If you have not had the pleasure of watching Margin Call, exploit its appearance among the cyber bargain bins and treat yourself. You’re worth it.


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