Margin Call

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I don’t know about you, but when I contemplate the SOBs on Wall Street responsible for our financial meltdown, I want blood.  And when I learn that Hollywood has made a movie about the corporate “masters of the universe” who played hell with my 401(k), I want the film rated R — so that the filmmakers are free to dispense some well-deserved carnage and gore on the guilty parties.  In short, I want Gordon Gekko’s head on a stick.

After all, wasn’t it Michael Douglas’s memorable turn as glamorous, villainous Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street that attracted so many sharks to firms like Lehman Brothers in the first place?

Alas, there is no gore to be found in Margin Call, director J.C. Chandor’s incisive take on financial panic at an investment bank reportedly based on Lehman Brothers.  There is, however, a great deal of emotional carnage in the film.

 

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Chandor’s script depicts one day in 2008 when an entry-level analyst (Zachary Quinto) raises red flags about his company’s shaky business practices.  Faster than you can say “mortgage fraud,” the firm’s honchos are convening in the wee hours of the night to see what they can do to avert disaster.  Their choice is simple:  submit to the consequences of their own negligence, or screw business partners by selling off toxic assets, pronto.  Favored employees will grab whatever can be salvaged — and to hell with everyone else.

Margin Call is an actor’s dream job, and the cast doesn’t disappoint.  Kevin Spacey, especially, is riveting as a sales manager caught in a moral dilemma.  Does he do what’s right and retain the respect of his traders, or does he succumb to the demands of unethical superiors?  The suspense in this film derives not from what is going to happen (we know that), but from how it will happen.

Most of us don’t personally know any hedge-fund managers or Wall Street bankers.  We wonder, justifiably, what kind of monsters some of them might be.  Margin Call wants to show us the humans behind the crisis, and it does so effectively.  Turns out these guys aren’t really monsters — but you wouldn’t mistake them for angels, either.     Grade:  B+

 

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Director:  J.C. Chandor  Cast:  Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Mary McDonnell, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi  Release:  2011

 

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