Margin Call

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Written and Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey

After being retrenched Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) gives his research to his protege Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) to complete. All signs point to an impending (nigh inevitable) global financial crisis and Margin Call follows the reactions of his investment bank employers (Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons) over a 24-hour period.

Debut feature film writer/director J.C Chandor has put himself on the map with the tense and tight insight into the passive and frighteningly passive attitudes of those responsible for tipping the free market into irrevocably changing financial turmoil. Chandor does an accomplished job of framing the industry and establishing the cut-throat context of the environment. The direction evokes a vibrant and thriving city that surrounds the vacuum of empty board rooms in the firm. Chandor doesn’t present the heads of this corporation with simplistic maniacal characterisations (even though I couldn’t seem to get Scar from The Lion King out of my head every time Jeremy ‘Jeremys Iron’ Irons spoke). He presents characters to be judged with a succinct subtlety that asks much more profound questions of the industry and how it mutates the men and woman in the positions of power.

One of the most powerful elements of the film was watching how what essentially are ‘salesmen’ put themselves in positions of near immeasurable power without having a fundamental understanding of how they’re leveraging the stock that they trade every day. David Simon (creator of The Wire) once said that it’s stories of middle management that tell the most interesting stories: namely because they’ve got the know how to change things without any of the power. Margin Call positions us alongside the ‘middle management’ as they discover the issue and spectate the powerful people in charge intentionally tearing the market down for self preservation.

This story and setting relies heavily on economical and resonant performances from all involved so you can actually invest (no pun intended) in the characters that are being portrayed. Two scenes that I’d like to address involve Sam Rogers – Kevin Spacey’s character. The first; he addresses the remaining employees in the wake of the round of forced redundancies – he strikes up a series of applause to attempt to maintain morale and control of the remaining staff as he’s attempting to find the silver lining. The 2nd; contrasts his character’s almost cavalier approach to ritualist sackings as he’s dealing with the grief of his elderly dog slowly passing away. This dichotomy really gives you a powerful insight into the industry’s ability to cultivate apathy and those with any longevity distance their work and personal selves.

Stanley Tucci is a chameleon, who I’d place alongside the likes of Gary Oldman. For the limited screen time he’s able to provide the humanity to the picture that the executives are clearly devoid of.  Zachary Quinto is great as the idealistic and naive Sullivan that becomes aware of  the situation in the wake of his bosses sacking. His fierce intelligence and pragmatic approach doesn’t sit well with his employers as they’re slithering out of the position that they’ve manouvered into.  Jeremy Irons and Simon Baker play particularly callous characters very well in this film while Demi Moore’s arc as the icy Mary Rogers, quickly realises the den of foxes that form her management team and breaks down when faced with the prospect that this will be her responsibility.

Margin Call‘s a tightly scripted, intensely acted, skillfully directed, character piece that illuminates the depths of moral and ethical corruption at the epicentre of western capitalist society.

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman