In the wake of mass layoffs, young broker Peter Sullivan (Quinto
) gets left with a stack of research by former boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci
). Working late into the night to break down the numbers, Sullivan finds a pattern which spells doom not only for his own company but the entire global financial sector.
is often grim viewing, giving us a glimpse at the inexorable process which brought the international financial markets to their knees in recent years. The work of these companies is so speculative that by the time the possibility of a crash had been voiced, it was already too late to avoid it.
And so the meetings begin, a frantic race to decide on a plan of action before trading begins the next day. As the issue escalates, more and more calls are made as each superior is followed by another more high powered executive until we get to the people who can really make the decisions (a delicious Jeremy Irons
) and the more underhanded work begins.
There’s a lot of talking in Margin Call
, in fact there’s little else, but while the conversations often move oblique around their actual subject, they’re generally presented in a way that’s comprehensible to the audience. Indeed, the higher up the meetings go, the more often it becomes necessary to frame the issue in plain English, as much to explain it to the characters as to keep the audience in the loop.
It’s a testament to the skills of writer/director J.C. Chandor
that a series of conversations about trading remain engaging. It’s all the more remarkable given the fact that this marks the American’s first feature film, after more than a decade working as a commercials and documentary maker. His direction is calm and focussed, while he seems unfazed by the massive star power walking the halls of his fabricated investment company.
And what a cast – Star Trek’s Quinto
is the apparent lead but all eyes will be on the support and extended cameos from pros like Tucci
, Paul Bettany
, Simon Baker
and the wonderful Irons
. It’s a joy just to see some of these faces on screen again and many seem to relishing their literate, often cut throat roles. Chandon
even uses these star names to his advantage, placing the more recognisable faces in positions of power, meaning every time you head into a meeting, you’re guaranteed a thrill of recognition.
Despite the heavyweight material, Margin Call
is structured like an entertaining thriller, and the strong performances do enough to keep the audiences engagement up for most of the running time. The pacing does flag a little in the final third, as decisions are made and careers broken but Tucci
saves the day with a fine speech towards the end. Chandon
wisely shies away from spending too much time wagging his finger at the world of finance, though there’s a realistic focus on the exorbitant expenditures of some of the employees, helping to ensure that the film never becomes a heavy handed lecture.
is not quite the movie you might expect it to be – it’s not a thinly veiled documentary or critical appraisal of the errors which led to the global collapse but rather an impeccably cast and well performed glance at what the beginning of the end looked like. It also reaffirms, without laying it on too thick, that the people involved were far from one note criminals, hell bent on stealing from the average person but rather fallible human beings who had just as much, if not more, to lose.