Review: Margin Call

Kevin Spacey in Margin Call

The first great film to follow the global financial crisis follows a superior cast through a nail-baiting night in big business.

Margin Call (2011)

Margin Call poster

DirectorJ.C. Chandor

Writer(s)J.C. Chandor

Runtime:  106 minutes

StarringKevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi MooreStanley Tucci

Distributor: Becker Film Group


Rating: Highly Recommended (?)

More info

Given the widespread impact of the current economic crisis around the world, it is baffling that more fictional treatments of the subject haven’t already taken place. With the exception of the lacklustre Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the little-seen The Company Men and the documentary Inside Job, the film industry has probably been too busy checking their bottom line to worry about insights on The One Percent and their far-reaching influence on the lives of the majority of the planet. With writer-director J.C. Chandor‘s debut Margin Call, recalling David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross in both theme and quality of casting, the people who set the rules around the money that makes the world go around can be found in the crosshairs.

Set during a 24-hour period during the early days of the financial crisis, a group of people at a large investment firm rapidly uncover everything they knew collapsing around them. The firm begins a round of brutal mass redundancies, including the long-serving analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who hands over a file to newish employee Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) as he is being escorted off the premises. Keen to apply his rocket scientist brain to the problem, he soon discovers that the entire formula the company has been basing its dealings on is bursting at the seams, bringing the company to the point of collapse. The problem is passed up the line from supervisor Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), to the mainly reasonable Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), the slick Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), the cold Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and ultimately the enigmatic CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), who travels by helicopter. Their actions ultimately decide the fate of the economy.

In this relatively brisk film, a layered character-based approach is taken to analysing the causes of the financial crisis, and this is devastatingly effective. In what is essentially a dialogue-based piece, Margin Call manages to avoid many of the more obvious stagey moments of an ensemble piece, and despite the size of the cast, character details emerge and each of the group has a textured moment or two. Kevin Spacey, for example, is allowed to break out of his Swimming with Sharks persona to just be a nice guy with a dying dog. One of the best films made on high finance, and a compelling character drama in any genre.

Balancing a giant cast with a difficult subject, Chandor makes a stunning debut in this superior character study of an economy in crisis.

Margin Call is released in Australia on 15 March 2012 from Beck Film Group.