Directed by J.C. Chandor
Written by J.C. Chandor
As the stock market looms on the precipice of collapse, a prestigious investment firm, whose practices are partly responsible for the imminent crisis, fires the one man (Stanley Tucci) who sees the catastrophe coming. However, the junior analyst, played by Zachary Quinto, inherits his former boss’s work manages to decipher its patterns in time to realize the firm only has about 24 hours before they face financial ruin. What follows is a scramble to find the man responsible for these ominous projections, save whatever shreds of the company can be saved, and make some critical and morally complex decisions that will determine what kind of business will emerge from the ashes if the firm can survive the downfall.
In the pantheon of similar finance-related fare, the unique thing about Margin Call is its delicate handling of moral
While the exposition can sometimes feel heavy handed and certainly repetitive, writer/director J.C. Chandor shrewdly manages to avoid condescending to his audience by requiring that the characters most in need of explanation be among the firm’s highest ranking members. One of the best and most amusing moments comes when CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons’ spectacular contribution to the film) admits to a roomful of his subordinates that he did not achieve his wealth and power with smarts. Which begs the question how did he achieve it? Luck? Possibly. Ambition? A little of that, surely, but more likely he earned the big chair because of a capacity for making the kind of dispassionate and sometimes ruthless decisions that this situation calls for, the kind of decisions that one can assume drive the treacherous stock market.
No one emerges a hero in this story. Everyone loses something, whether it is a job, a principle, or even the years devoted to a heartless investment firm that could have been spent making a family. Margin Call’s material may be bleak and frustrating at times for all the ethical ambiguities, but never once is it dry. There is no shortage of tension or conflict. The script is thoughtful and provocative, and the performances are as remarkable as you would expect from such a collection of celebrated names. Paul Bettany almost single-handedly supplies the movie its comic relief with several well-timed wisecracks and observations, and when one of the film’s few moments of pure pathos falls in the lap of comparatively young actor Penn Badgley, he handles it with the ease of a veteran. Margin Call will illuminate questions about a precarious economy and is sure to intrigue and entertain moviegoers everywhere.