Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Margin Call

"Margin Call" comes from first time writer/director JC Chandor who grew up close to the investment banking profession, but from an outsiders view as his father worked for Merrill Lynch for 30 years. This unique perspective provides a human quality to the financial crisis of 2008. The ensemble cast contributes well to the first time writer/director to deliver this amazing film.

The story centers on a 24-hour time period at a nameless Investment Bank that is responding to the slowing economy through a series of layoffs, and as a result have discovered that they are too leveraged in high risk investments that have exposed them beyond their market capitalization limits. What works well with "Margin Call" is that it doesn't try to explain the technical causes of the financial crisis, but instead demonstrates that it is the lack of understanding by the executives along with their greed that were the catalyst to the failures. By keeping this a human story, the film is very accessible to the audience.

The ensemble cast is brilliant starting with Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) who are the lone surviving members of the risk management division of the firm after the dismissal of Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) who has discovered the leverage issue in his absence the research is picked up by Peter Sullivan. The film doesn't explain why Eric Dale was terminated, but it could be indicative that the firm is unable to properly identify its own risk and terminates the one responsible for managing the level of risk. However, it is the greed of the executives that created the high risk investment packages that exposed the firm. At the top of the firm is John Told (Jeremy Irons) who instructs Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) to make the difficult decision to sell-off the investments at a loss. Supporting this decision is Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore).

During the 24-hour period the life of those involved is uniquely isolated inside the building and from the rooftop looking down on the city. The effect is to show that the life of the investment bankers is severed from the outside world and that they have no real connection with normal people. The live in a world were everyone makes six-figure salaries and enjoys fancy cars, meals and entertainment.

The performances from all except for Simon Baker and Demi Moore were terrific. The scenes with Baker and Moore seemed more like an executive management film on office conversations and comes across as flat. Zachary Quinto again demonstrates that he has leading man potential and not just a pretty face as he was in "What's Your Number". Quinto is complemented by top performances from Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, and Jeremy Irons. Kevin Spacey provided a unique perspective to the film when compared to his performance in "Horrible Bosses" as he is a respected manager that I would enjoy working for in "Margin Call". Paul Bettany emerges from the film unscathed by the terrible film "Priest" and shows that he is still an actor to pay attention to.

This film comes highly recommended and should be remembered much in the same way that "Wall Street" (1987) and "Boiler Room" (2000) have been. It steps away from "Too Big To Fail" from earlier this year, which celebrated the political side of the financial crisis and took away from any human perspective. Those educated in finance and investments can criticize some of the details in the film, but for the general public this is a 4 Quack film that has amazing performances.

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