Who would have thought that a movie named after a financial jargon would be this engaging and suspenseful?
A caveat to viewers, though. If you’re the kind who thinks that the Pirates trilogy is like the pinnacle of awesome, or you’re shivering in your boots as you queue for Breaking Dawn, then perhaps this film is not for you.
Margin Call tells a rather edge-of-your-seat tale of the fate of an investment bank (some say the firm is loosely based on the Lehman Brothers) hours before an imminent financial collapse. Some of you might say, “Ho-hummm… another story about Wall Street? How exciting can that be?” Well, I’d say… it’s pretty exciting.
Margin Call starts with the mass lay-off of some of the employees of said bank as some of the junior employees stand by. One of unfortunate ones was Eric Dale from the risk management department who, because of the nature of his work, had to be all but cut off from the company. Before he leaves, he tells junior employee Peter Sullivan to “be careful”.
As Sullivan works on the data that Dale had started working on, he realizes to his horror that the firm is suffering a haemorrhage so severe, there seems to be no way out of the financial rut – not when the firm’s losses are more, so much more than its actual value.
Director JC Chandor crafts a film that does not have to rely on cheap tricks to wring out the drama, smartly understanding that the imminent collapse of one of the pillars of speculative trading is by itself dramatic. And it helps that the script does not talk down to its audience either. Characters talk in financial jargon – and you intuitively know that THAT was how investment bankers talk like.
Don’t worry about getting lost though – the film has a rather clever way of explaining banking lingo to outsiders via conversations between characters. That way, the rest of us who does not belong to the world of speculative banking and virtual trading could follow the story.
The acting is as smart as the movie. Stanley Tucci maximizes his hangdog expression to full effect as employee Eric Dale who was recently, uh, made redundant; Zachary Quinto, known to TV audiences as villain Sylar in Heroes, mouths off financial jargon with relish, as though he was born talking about “volatility levels” and “market leverages”. Kevin Spacey, always a wonder to behold in any film he’s in, portrays head of sales Sam Rogers with razor-sharp precision – how could you like a man who grieves the imminent death of his dog while the rest of the world collapses around him? And Demi Moore (yes, her – will wonders never cease?) plays head of risk management Sarah Robertson with a quiet tenacity, you stop wondering why she was able to survive a male-dominated world.
The standout, though, is Jeremy Irons as billionaire CEO John Tuld (not to be confused with actual Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld). When he tells Sullivan that smarts did not bring him at the top of the investment banking ladder, the audience instinctively knows that this is an amoral man, especially when later on, he flippantly tells Sam Rogers that money is nothing more than printed paper.
For a movie about greed in the US, the film is strangely apolitical. Though it certainly paints an unsavoury picture of the people at the top, there is no strong indictment against corporate America – not along the lines of Michael Moore, anyway.
Still, that might not exactly be the point of the movie. It tells, in a rather compelling way, a straightforward story about the start of the financial collapse of what was once a very important fixture of Wall Street, in a way that is both engaging and intellectual.
I will take this movie over one with sparkly vampires any day.
Notes while watching Margin Call
1. Jeremy Irons is a God. Oh, wait. He made Eragon, didn’t he? Okay, I take that back.
2. Peter Sullivan aka Zachary Quinto has got to be the sexiest analyst in Wall Street. He makes “historical volatility” sound something dirty.
3. All throughout the movie, there were conferences, meetings, talk about financial collapse; in other movies, there are bitings, emo vampires, unfunny gays in the military and damsels in distress. Somehow, the financial warbling sounds so much more interesting than all those other movies combined.
4. Is it just me or was anybody expecting the Demi Moore character to seduce Jeremy Irons Disclosure-like? Then we have a porn movie – Geriatrics Version.
5. Have P100 in my pocket that says this movie will not be earning as much as that classic turd, Breaking Dawn. Which does not give us a good picture of the intelligence level of moviegoers these days.
6. The Jeremy Irons character is sooo insensitive, he appears unconcerned while his ship is sinking knowing he has billions stashed somewhere. I know someone exactly like him!
7. Another character spends $750k + on hookers. I know somebody who is exactly like him, too.
8. What is a margin call? I looked it up and suffered a seizure.
9. Number of times film had to be rewound to be understood: 17. Number of times film had to be paused to look up financial jargon on the Net: 23.
10. When I grow up, I don’t want to be an analyst. Scary.