Margin Call is the opposite of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Where Wall Street was surface level and full of massive disappointments Margin Call is thick, heavy and full of depressing consequences. This is probably the most gripping film about Wall Street yet and it’s because of the powerful performances by veterans like Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci and younger stars like Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker (okay, he’s not that young) and Paul Bettany. The direction is a little loose; often times leaving too much room for sitting around and watching things happen, but that doesn’t break the film by any means. It actually kind of helps the film establish a brooding tone around every corner. Something is slowly building and the end is just the beginning to the problems and situations we are left with to face.
Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) handles the risk assessments for an investment bank. He finds a massive flaw that could pull the thread resulting in a stock market crash like no other. On his day of firing he passes on the information to a young kid who worked under him named Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). Peter is a genius on a rocket scientist level and he puts the last piece of the puzzle into Eric’s findings that makes for a disaster. His new boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) is alerted and a higher up named Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) is also informed. They take this newly found knowledge to even bigger dogs like Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).
An emergency meeting is ordered, in which the whole group of workers, from the bottom to the top are called in to sort out this giant mess. Margin Call revolves around the final 24 hours leading up to a huge financial crisis for this bank and the rest of the market. Margin Call is not a big blockbuster film that gives up strong technical story advancing scenes consisting of computer screens with charts and graphs and messy numbers for flashy chase sequences or conspiracy plots. It’s more focused with being a real film, full of real people that all feel the results of the Titanic crashing into an iceberg.
It’s the slow pacing that really makes it flourish. Most might be turned away by this kind of film, but I found it refreshing actually knowing what was going on. Margin Call never moves too fast, which allows the viewer to both understand and process what is exactly going on. The gist of it is simple, the market is going to crash, but the more technical stuff isn’t that hard to follow because long scenes of pure number crunching and talking are stretched out into 10 to 15 minute scenes, where normal films would settle for 5. Most of the film takes place inside of the office and it rarely leaves for fresh air, but when it does the whole film sort of shifts into a different light.
The tone is depressing and dark since the results are known, but it feels very real in the way everything is handled. Zachary Quinto plays the brainy youngster who stumbles upon this error with an honest and considerate approach. His character Peter is always concerned with everyone else around him, making sure their okay before he even stops to think about his own future. Peter is well aware of what is happening, but he never truly expresses his negative emotions.
Simon Baker plays the boss who is more worried about damage control than the actual effect it will have on the rest of the company. His employees are disposable as long as he can get rid of the stocks before the day is up. Chiming in at the other end is Stanley Tucci, who plays a character who cares less about the whole situation after being fired. He’s one of the good guys, who wants to generally help people and keep people informed when something really bad is coming. Tucci is absent for a good portion of the film, but he’s a vital part of the film’s opening and he provides some good back and forth between himself and Paul Bettany.
Paul Bettany provides one of the better performances in the film. His Will Emerson is a businessman and a smart friend. He knows exactly what needs to be done regardless of how he personally feels about it. Bettany, who has been in a lot of biblical movies as of late, really fits into Margin Call. I hope to see him in more roles like this, where dramatic acting is worth more than killing undead creatures. I don’t know why he continues to be in garbage like Priest or Legion.
Kevin Spacey gives an out of nowhere Oscar worthy performance as Sam Rogers, the company man who has been with the bank for 30 plus years and has had his fair share of shitty situations that he isn’t proud of. Roger’s is such an interesting character because he’s always aware of what he’s doing, but he does it because he knows if he doesn’t someone else will. Spacey gives a lot of dimension to the character which really makes you understand why he makes the tough decisions that he does. Roger’s is a good man that does a few bad things for good reasons. He gets the bigger picture and he understands what he has to do to get there.
I guess you can’t praise all of these fine performances without giving a little credit to the director, J.C. Chandor. Chandor knows exactly how to properly direct a Wall Street thriller without ever making the film feel boring or confusing. Margin Call isn’t chalked full of action or twists and turns. It’s very straight forward in what it’s set out to achieve, but the authenticity in which it unfolds is interesting enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. Chandor understands how important each and every character is and he never cuts one short. Even smaller roles like Demi Moore‘s and Jeremy Irons‘ are given enough importance. The pacing, as I mentioned earlier is also a saving grace. Usually when these kinds of films slow down things get boring, but with Margin Call things only get more interesting. The characters have room to fully develop and the story has room to slowly unfold, explaining every bit of detail without losing even the more impatient viewers.
Margin Call is a depressing movie, but it also has moments of shining light. These moments come in the form of good people who tried doing their best even when everyone else was more worried about taking bonuses and bailing out. Margin Call is the most accurate Wall Street, financial crisis, stock market crash or whatever you want to call it film that I’ve seen. It’s not the flashiest, but it’s much more valuable. J.C. Chandor directs a more than willing cast in a drama that relies on its slow movement and hard hits. Sometimes the truth makes a better movie than a sugar coated film full of conspiracy twists. Margin Call is the only movie that I can complement for being described as tired, slow and depressing.
Margin Call – 9/10