Trying to put a face on the current economic crisis can be hard; with so many people struggling with money and bank foreclosures it is difficult to even remember where it all started. That is where newcomer writer-director J.C. Chandor has chosen to make his big-screen debut, with “Margin Call.”
The film takes place during a 24-hour period at a large investment bank and the subject is the 2007-2008 financial crises that would be the first stone into the calm pond of America’s economic downfall. Junior employees Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) and Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), along with senior trader Will (Paul Bettany), watch as human resources start massive layoffs in their department. One of the employees to be let go is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) — who works in the firm’s risk management department — and as he is leaving, he hands a USB hard drive to Peter with the cryptic message “Be careful.”
Upon looking at the project Eric was working on, Peter uncovers a nasty secret that shows the firm is a dead company walking. This starts a chain reaction that brings in the head of trading, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who calls a meeting with senior executive Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), head of risk management Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and even CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). As they discuss the situation, plans are already forming and a series of all-night meetings occur in which they hammer out a plan to start a fire sale to make as much money as possible before anyone catches on and the market begins to crash.
The firm in the film is loosely based on Lehman Brothers and although the movie boasts lots of political and Wall Street jargon, “Margin Call” still enables everyone to understand the ramifications of what is taking place — even if they don’t exactly know the details of what they are discussing onscreen. I would by no means consider myself a Wall Street guru, but the intensity of the acting, along with the fast-paced storyline, help enthrall the viewer with the film and some of its core characters.
This is a dream cast for any director, especially for a newcomer like Chandor, but he directs this talented cast to make an engaging film. The fact that the movie is based off true events and arrives during this “occupy wall street” phenomenon should have people even more interested in seeing it. Each member of this amazing ensemble cast portrays his or her role with a powerful efficiency. One particular standout is Kevin Spacey, who is channeling his acting idol Jack Lemmon from his role in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and just like that beloved actor there is a stoic presence and humanity to his acting that shows through.
“Margin Call” is a tense story that involves greed, power, sacrifice and hubris on some of the highest levels and is guaranteed to keep you intrigued from start to finish. Rated R for language, it is playing now in select theaters as well as On Demand in certain areas.
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