Connect with us


Margin Call | Review

Money May Not Sleep, But You Can

If one were to take an epidemic film (i.e., Contagion, 2011) and turn it into a stage play from the point of view of the virus, set it entirely in one host cell the viruses are about infect, understanding this would infect every cell of the entire organism said cell resides in, then you would have something akin to the debut of J.C. Candor’s Margin Call, which details an investment firm’s dirty deeds during the first 24 hours of the 2008 financial crisis. The result eschews traditional thrills for a sobering, methodical portrait of corporate carelessness. Packaged as a Hollywood thriller, the film is more akin to the distantly icy coiffed women and fiscally conservative stylized men on FOX news berating ideas of wealth redistribution or complaining about the possibility of the wealthier populous shouldering the responsibility of supporting the entire country.

On the eve of the financial crisis, an investment firm in the middle of downsizing lets go of the head of risk management (Stanley Tucci), who had currently been doing some research concerning a formula that measures profitability (the nature of the formula and what it really measures is spelled out on more than one occasion, even as a “plain English” scenario, but it never seems quite clear enough). As he is escorted out of the building, he passes his findings to a junior staff member (Zachary Quinto), a young man who used to actually be a rocket scientist, and who, within hours, is able to plug in information his boss had missed, unlocking information that points to impending ruin for the firm. This information is immediately hiked through the chain of command (Paul Bettany) to the trading floor boss (Kevin Spacey) to a financial officer (Demi Moore) to the disinterested and reptilian CEO (Jeremy Irons). What results is an all night emergency meeting where individual futures are ruined and the herald of our current financial crisis is born.

With so many secretive, tight lipped meetings circulating around dollar signs and figures of large sums of money, Chandor manages to induce a certain amount of unease and dread in the initial proceedings. But what begins like a prophetic Wall Street set John Grisham novel quickly becomes a stalemate of soliloquies.

If no one seems nice, it’s because no one is, pointing to the definite conclusion that innate, human selfishness and greed is at the root of our entire crisis. Certain players get bits of humanizing moments, like Kevin Spacey caring for his dying dog, but anyone who can afford to spend a thousand dollars a day on keeping dog alive is also hard pressed to find any empathy from an audience that will consist mainly of “normal” people. While there’s a certain amount of gleeful bitchiness and finger-pointing about the cluelessness of executives (yes, Jeremy Irons asks to be told “in plain English” like a dog or a child and Kevin Spacey is heard to utter, “you know I don’t know how to read those graphs”) it’s really just preaching to the choir.

Surely, in 2011, we’re all aware that those in government and on Wall Street are indeed clueless. As Irons puts it, “It’s not my brains that got me here.” While Margin Call is certainly a competent film centered around recent and compelling current events, it can’t manage to be more than just a stalled spectacle set in a soul crushing office environment.

Rating 2.5 stars

Continue Reading
You may also like...

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

  • Ava Duvernay Origins Review Ava Duvernay Origins Review


    Origin | Review


    Caste of the Unjust: DuVernay’s Scholarly Drama Traces the Universal Social Ills of Hierarchy For her...

  • Jean-Paul Salomé La syndicaliste Review Jean-Paul Salomé La syndicaliste Review


    La syndicaliste | Review


    Comedy of Power: Huppert Shines in Whistleblower Expose from Salomé Making a rare appearance in a...

  • Kore-eda Hirokazu Monster Review Kore-eda Hirokazu Monster Review


    Monster | Review


    The Children’s Hour: Kore-eda Crafts a Melodramatic Puzzle Returning to his native Japan after venturing out...

  • Bradley Cooper Maestro Review Bradley Cooper Maestro Review


    Maestro | Review


    The Music Man: Coopers Conducts Intimate Portrait of Leonard Bernstein For his sophomore directorial effort, Bradley...

  • Todd Haynes May December Review Todd Haynes May December Review


    May December | Review


    Tarnished Angels: Haynes Curates a New Dazzling Cult Classic Had Brian De Palma been keen on...

To Top