Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons star in Margin Call, 2012’s answer to Wall Street.
After completing a project from his former boss late one evening, risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) makes a startling discovery: trading will soon exceed the historical volatility levels used by the firm to calculate risk. Due to excessive leverage, if the firm’s assets in mortgage-backed securities decrease by 25%, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalisation. Still with us?
Margin Call is already being touted as the new Wall Street and, whilst this analogy is fine, it has more in common with David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Both have a single, palpable dilemma that will ultimately form the remainder of the plot, said dilemma is costly and devastating to many of our characters and each character does what they can to survive the day unscathed, be it by, to paraphrase Jeremy Irons, ‘being first, being smarter or cheating’.
Considering the recent global financial crisis, a movie like Margin Call was inevitable but that’s not to say its predictable or obvious. Is it necessary to fully understand the nature of our protagonists’ business? No. Would it help? Yes. But throughout the movie, the film makers cunningly emphasise, to witty effect, what little understanding the head bosses (Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, etc.) have on their plight. Once you get around the mind boggling intricacies of the stock market and business strategy, what is presented here is a thriller where the tension comes from scenes of people talking heatedly in boardrooms.
Fortunately, like Glengarry Glen Ross, and much like 2010’s The Social Network, amongst all the technical jargon is some electrifying and snappy dialogue that is delivered with ease and bravado by its cast. Also, like Glengarry Glen Ross, Margin Call opts for character actors as opposed to full blown stars, all of whom are given their own room to make their part of the ensemble their own. The result is cinema in its purest form: a film that relies on its actors to convincingly tell the story.
Despite its insistence on explaining things as simply as possible, it will inevitably lose some come the credits. For the rest of us, just sit back and enjoy what is effectively a riveting stage-play told through the medium of cinema with a terrific cast of talent.
Apparently there’s no black and white in investment banking, only varying shades of grey.
Best line: ‘Its just money; its made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other just to get something to eat.’ Jeremy Irons’s John Tuld tells it like it is.
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