out of Five
Running time: 107
Impressively directed and superbly acted, this is a surprisingly engaging, frequently tense and ultimately depressing drama that would play well alongside financial crisis documentary The Inside Job.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by JC Chandor, Margin Call is a fictional drama that's loosely based on the downfall of Lehman Brothers and the events that triggered the beginning of the financial crisis. When Wall Street risk-assessment manager Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is let go in a wave of downsizing, he hands his protégé Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) a file with the words “Be careful” attached as he's being escorted out of the building.
When Sullivan examines Eric's data, he makes a shocking discovery about the company and calls in both his colleague Seth (Penn Badgley) and his immediate superior Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) so they can decide what to do. Over the course of the night, the crisis escalates upwards through Emerson's boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), top executives Cohen and Robertson (Simon Baker and Demi Moore) and finally, the company owner himself (Jeremy Irons as CEO John Tuld, a name not a million miles away from Lehman's Dick Fuld), who arrives by helicopter in the early hours and takes a decision that will have catastrophic consequences.
Chandor has assembled a terrific cast and the performances are superb across the board, particularly Bettany and Spacey, who are each given slightly more of a world-weary shade than their co-stars (Spacey even gets his own metaphor-laden subplot involving his dying dog). However, the film is more or less stolen by Jeremy Irons, who's utterly brilliant in his handful of scenes (“Just speak to me in plain
English”) and is clearly enjoying himself more than he ought to be.
It's a testament to the quality of Chandor's script that he's able to wring so much tension out of scenes of bankers basically crowding around computer screens and talking, particularly as anybody who's been paying attention to the news already knows the outcome of the story. He also orchestrates some genuinely chilling moments, particularly in a scene involving Tuld and Moore's character.
In addition, the film is impressively shot, with striking New York imagery courtesy of cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco and some great production design work on the offices themselves.
Margin Call is an engaging, sharply written and surprisingly gripping drama with terrific performances from a superb cast, though it's also ultimately as depressing as the financial crisis itself. Recommended.