Margin Call

Posted by on November 4, 2011

Margin Call is the story of an investment bank unraveling during a 24 hour period at the beginning of the 2008 recession. It’s hard to imagine connecting the word “thriller” to a banking movie, but that’s just what it is. Eric Dale, a grizzled veteran (played by Stanley Tucci) is laid off by the bank. On his way out the door, he gives a mysterious flash drive to the young, brilliant Peter Sullivan (played admirably by Zachary Quinto – the actor who played Spock in the latest Star Trek). With a little math, Sullivan enhances the spreadsheet on the flash drive, only to discover that the calculations used to drive the entire banking industry forward are flawed, and about to fail miserably. The rest of the story involves the unfolding of this financial crisis.

The cast in this movie is incredible. In addition to Tucci and Quinto, we also see Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Paul Bettany at their best. This is Wall Street 2, only really, really good. There are no caricatures in this film – just real people (albeit rich), caught in a situation that they can’t control. Writer J.C. Chandor deserves a look come Oscar time, as the script is beautiful. For example, as a powerful, yet not too heavy-handed metaphor, Kevin Spacey has to accept that his dying dog needs to be put down. And Bank CEO John Tuld (played superbly by Jeremy Irons) exudes a rare combination of charm and ruthlessness. He wonderfully creates an environment where underlings tell the truth, but then coldly makes sweeping decisions that have immense ramifications. And his speeches are chock full of memorable quotes. Among them, “There are three ways to make a living in this business – be first, be smarter, or cheat. And we’re not cheaters”.

Margin Call is powerful and raw, visually feeling a lot like Glengarry Glen Ross, and not just because Kevin Spacey is in both.

Final Grade: A-

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