Margin Call


Featuring a high class ensemble cast –Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, and Stanley Tucci all put in an appearance- Margin Call attempts to tell the events of 2008 resulting in the global financial crisis from an insider business trader’s point of view. Needless to say not many will leave the cinema feeling any more sympathy towards the financial bigwigs playing fast and loose with the financial structure many rely on, providing they had any sympathy in the first place. The first time writer and director J.C. Chandor manages to coax solid performances out of his impressive cast even if Paul Bettany’s accent whilst playing trading desk manager Will Emerson falters as precariously as the unnamed company’s finances and on occasion is downright weird. Despite this Chandor does manage to capture the reptilian nature of the self serving ethics of high powered business and its total lack of integrity when it comes to saving its own skin and although the film is reliably conventional in both its narrative drive and construction it still manages to maintain a high level of tension even if we are aware how it will pan out from the very beginning.

The film gets underway with multiple lay offs in the risk department of a trading firm and following the departure of the  department head  Eric Dale- Tucci- who has realised something is amiss in the company’s figures he hands his junior team member Peter Sullivan-Quinto-,a former rocket scientist, a disc with his recent unfinished findings. Sullivan wastes no time in finding what Dale had been missing and realises the company is on the brink of financial ruin. The only way to prevent this is by selling off all the assets they have in their possession even though they are worth absolutely nothing. A moral dilemma then ensues as this means they are ruining other businesses in the process alongside their own firm’s reputation as no-one will ever trust them again. The dilemma is short-lived however as self preservation rises to the fore and deals and compromises are waged in a misguided attempt at solidarity. A sacrificial lamb in the form of Sharon Robertson-Demi Moore- head of the risk department, who had warned company heads of the dangers ahead a year previously, is offered in a vain attempt to keep the wolves at bay when looking for someone to blame. It is symbolic that the character sacrificed is female as the big guns all seem to occupy some form of archaic gentlemen’s club with bright young spark Sullivan gaining not just a promotion but a shortcut to its exclusive membership thanks to his discoveries. It is also worth observing that she is the only character referred to throughout by the derogatory term ‘c***’ even though it could be applied to many other characters more deserving of the title, Therefore the gender divide in big business still obviously exists though some may argue that her character managed to turn up to a hastily called late night meeting in five inch f*** me heels so perhaps she got what she wanted as she was well and truly f***ed by her male contemporaries.  Meanwhile all traders are out to save their own skins by selling off the worthless stocks ruining businesses and lives whilst themselves receiving seven figure bonuses as a reward for doing so.  The end result is the financial crisis which has impacted globally over the last three years and shows no signs of abating.

Margin Call is an impressive film with a high powered cast which ensures a good looking board room. It does fall short on innovation and suspense however as we are aware of the outcome even before the film begins. Chandor does capture some of the nastiness and lack of integrity which lay at the core of this situation and tries to lay out a different perspective in a scene when Emerson claims the traders have been doing us a favour all these years by providing us with a fantasy lifestyle. It fails to convince as even at the films conclusion those who lead us to the brink and then some are still being financially rewarded for their mistakes-think Fred Godwin of RBS- whilst those they have ruined and put out of work are still struggling. What the film does do cleverly by having such a recognisable cast is instil some sense of familiarity- where previously anonymity reigned supreme-regarding those who placed us in our current financial plight, Proving yet again by Hollywood standards if you are going to blame anyone then they might as well be good looking.

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