Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review of Margin Call

I have never heard of J.C. Chandor but after seeing “Margin Call” I can safely say the director is gong to have a long career in front of him. “Margin Call” is a movie on the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the reactions of a group of people in charge of a large investment bank on the outset of the crisis.

“Margin Call” starts with a bloodbath on the trading floor as the investment bank in question was conducting massive layoffs. One of the employees fired, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), was a manager in the risk management division. Before he leaves, he hands over a project he was working on to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a junior risk analyst.

That night, Peter finished Eric’s project and discovered that the company’s trading strategy has put the company in great risk of collapse. Sullivan informed his friend Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) as well as his boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). Once he discovered how serious the problems are, Will immediately tried to contact Eric Dale but discover that Eric has not went home and his HP no. has been cancelled by the company. He then contacted Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), the company’s head of sales.

Throughout the night, the employees engaged in a series of high-level meetings with senior executives like the company’s head of securities Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), the company’s head of risk Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), and the company’s CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). Tuld revealed his plan to sell off all of the toxic assets of the company before the market catch wind of their worthlessness, thus enabling the firm to continue. Rogers strongly object to this plan as it will destroy the firm's relationships throughout the financial sector as they would be selling worthless paper.

From then on, the movie became a tense affair as Tuld and Rogers engaged in a test of wills on whether to go ahead with the plan. Needless to say, the plan went through and the aftermath was not pretty.

Let me put it simply; “Margin Call” is a wonderful film. With a peerless ensemble cast and a smart director, it is intriguing by the very fact of what it tried to do. It creates sympathy for the bad guys of the current financial crisis.

A lot of the credit has to go to the cast, especially Spacey and Irons. Spacey is brilliant as the immoral Rogers who is surprised and none too pleased to discover that he still has some principals. Irons matched Spacey’s performance as the desperate Tuld who makes no apologies for doing whatever he could to enable the survival of his firm.

Let’s admit it, the tropic of financial swaps and debt sales is rather dry, and it is to the cast’s credit that the film works! Even actors I never care for like Demi Moore and Simon Baker put in some stellar work here.

However director J.C. Chandor also came out of this film smelling like roses. In any other film, all the characters in the film would be considered the bad guys. They were the ones who created a crisis that affected millions of people, who sold worthless assets to save themselves and who got rich while doing so! However under Chandor’s deft hands, everyone got to display a glimmer of humanity as zero hour approaches.

Chandor treaded the needle in this movie. He refused to give us any villains but did show the reason why the crisis started in the first place. The people in this film might not be villains but they are no heroes either. Near the end of the film, it was revealed that senior executives of the firm were aware of the risks in the weeks leading up to the crisis but they chose to ignore it due to the money they were making. Even the counterparties of the firm, who were buying worthless paper, were not spared. As the day goes on, the firm’s counterparties knew that something was wrong but despite being increasingly suspicious, they still bought the assets from the firm because the firm was selling it so cheaply.

Chandor made sure to emphasis the fact that greed was the all powerful factor in the financial crisis and everyone was to blame for it.

Yet despite the heavy and dry tropic, this was not a humorless film. There were a few running jokes in the film. One of the running jokes in the film was that the structure of the asset was so complex no one but engineers and rocket scientists could figure out exactly how it worked. Almost every executive in the film told Sullivan to explain the matter to them as simply as possible. Another was the search for Eric Dale. After getting fired, Dale got his phone number cancelled; which made it impossible for the firm to contact him once they found they needed him back. In the end, they had to pay him a truckload of money just to come back to the firm to sit down in the office doing nothing for a day.

Of course if you wish to nitpick, there were some parts of the film that could have done some work. The structure of the assets the firm was selling was never fully explained and it would have been nice to know what happened between Robertson, Cohen, and Tuld during the weeks leading to the crisis.

Still, those were minor instances in the film which could have being better. On the whole, “Margin Call” was a wonderful film. I know it’s still January but I’m pretty sure this will be one of the best film I’ll watch this year. Watch it and see why!

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