Sunday, February 10, 2013

Margin Call

Margin Call (2011)
Drama, Thriller, 107 minutes
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Penn Badgley and Simon Baker

It's quite an achievement to make a movie about a boring subject and keep the viewer engaged throughout, but Margin Call does just that. It's a financial drama, depicting events leading up to the last stock market crash in 2008.

The movie begins with a scene showing Eric Dale (Tucci) being laid off. He's in risk management for an investment company. When he's informed of the decision, he's escorted back to his office to pick up his belongings, and then made to leave the building. His phone service is immediately terminated and he's told to forget about anything he was working on as it's no longer his problem. But Dale hands a USB drive to a colleague before he leaves, advising him to be careful.

The colleague is Peter Sullivan (Quinto), who takes a look at Dale's research when everyone else has left the office. His findings set in motion a series of events taking place over 24 hours, during which we are shown how a financial crisis might be handled.

Many scenes involve people looking at computer screens and talking about the worrying implications, but the excellent screenplay makes us anticipate what is coming next. There is a little technical jargon, but it doesn't matter if you don't understand anything about Mortgage Backed Securities. The beauty of the story is in showing the chain of command, and the way in which people respond to the unfolding events.

We see the problem being talked about by Sullivan and a junior analyst, and they decide to tell their immediate superior, Will (Bettany). He then calls in his boss, Sam (Spacey). As the night wears on, a series of meetings take place. Other department heads are called in, and ultimately the man who decides the overall strategy (Irons). Eric Dale cannot be traced, and the decision to terminate his services causes problems to all concerned.

My favorite scene involves Dale talking about his former career as an engineer. He reveals how much of a difference one man can make, and shows some of the traits which earned him his job in risk management.

The movie depicts leadership, reaction to stress, and how a strategy was devised to resolve the situation with as little damage to the company as possible. Ruthless decisions were called for and made, and the story has an undeniable ring of truth at every turn. That's not surprising when you realize that director J.C. Chandor's father worked for Merrill Lynch for 30 years.

Margin Call is a movie that's well-written, well-acted,and surprisingly gripping. It might even make you question your investment strategy. Although I loved Wall Street, I think Margin Call is my favorite story set in the world of finance.

Overall score 4.5/5

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