“Margin Call” (2011)



This isn’t “Wall Street” … or the sequel … or any of the other hot-shot money-flinging investment scumwad movies. This isn’t a flashy Tom Cruise-esque glorification of greed. There’s no sex, no wild parties, nothing that will make for a good TV commercial. This film will likely fly under the radar and, to a younger audience, probably appear quite dull. The power of this film is it’s understatement and calm.

This is a smoothly flowing look at what happens when a major investment brokerage on the brink suddenly discovers they’ve gone past it. The entire movie covers 24 hours of real time. At the start of the film, they’re in the middle of a “blood bath” of layoffs. By the end of the movie, they’re more or less scuttling all their investors in order to save the company for the few who will remain.

The cast is amazing. Kevin Spacey as the head of the risk assessment division manages to bring some humanity to what would normally be a soul-less role. He is understated and believable. It’s a really well-controlled performance on his part given his penchant for fringe characters.

Jeremy Irons is the head of The Firm. Charming. Decisive. Even charismatic. And completely ruthless. It’s a perfect role for him. Paul Bettany plays a middle manager in the firm – he walks the line between a greedy executive and a real human being quite well too. He’s in it for the money, but he’s straight with his people and there’s a thread of decency to him.

Zachary Quinto, who also co-produced, plays the “rocket scientist” analyst who discovers the flaw in the investment formula that is sending the company to the bottom. This is a key role and it’s done to perfection – he’s at once confident in his work and himself, yet overwhelmed by the events unfolding because of it. But not in a “gee whiz, now what, Mr. Wizard?” way – rather  like you’d expect a rocket scientist to view a melt down.

Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Simon Baker round the rest of the primary cast. All do a splendid job. Even down to Tucci’s mini-soliloquy about his past career as a civil engineer. The way he does it – the way he can work the numbers as he talks – it’s such a wonderful detail which, while needless to the plot, adds depth to the film.

The point of this film – at least to me – isn’t so much a indictment of Wall Street, even though that’s where it’s set. Rather, the point is that a company – any company – behaves like any other living organism will when threatened with elimination. It will do whatever it takes to live another day – it will eat it’s young, or destroy all it’s customers – if it enables the firm (meaning the people at the top) to continue on.

I gave this movie such a high rating because, for what it is, it is almost flawless. As I said earlier, this isn’t an exciting movie. It’s not even an inflammatory one – you probably won’t walk out hating investment brokers. It is an immaculately written, acted, and directed movie which gives a very good insight into how our economy ended up in the shit hole it’s in now. If you’re looking for quality and substance, you’ll love this movie.