Review: Margin Call (15)

Director:  J.C Chandor

Cast: Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey

It is a brave step, in your feature-length directorial debut, to not only set a film at the start of the current economic crisis, but to place sympathetic characters at the centre of your story. And that is probably writer/director J.C. Chandor’s greatest achievement with this film.  He could have been excused for producing a wholly one-sided take on the greed within the financial sector, but instead he creates a story which is as balanced as can be expected considering the subject matter. Whilst none of the protagonists come out of this unscathed, some, more than others, at least earn our sympathy.

As the film begins we join Eric (Tucci) as he finds himself surplus to requirements during a down-sizing at an investment firm. On the way out, he gives Peter (Quinto) a memory stick with some figures he is concerned about, but warns him to “be careful”. Peter analyses the data and reaches a shocking conclusion, and along with Will (Bettany) and Seth (Badgley), they report their finding to their boss Sam (Spacey).  In the middle of the night, as things come to a head, an emergency board meeting is convened to decide what to do, although CEO John (Irons) already has his own ideas.

Many comparisons can be drawn here with the wonderful Glengary Glen Ross, and it is certainly a huge step up from the misjudged Wall Street sequel.  Although taking place over a 24 hour period, Margin Call is a slow-burning drama, with more of the feel of a stage play than a film.. The cast is impressive and none of their performances disappoint, and whilst the younger actors all give good accounts of themselves, it’s two old stagers who steal the show.  Spacey is impressive as the long-serving manager who has to wrestle with his conscience, and as soon as Irons descends from above the whole film picks up a pace.  They add gravitas to the proceedings and both exude guru-like qualities.

Whilst Margin Call may not be for everyone, it’s an intelligence ensemble drama which, whilst never dumbing-down the material or patronising the audience, manages to discuss the subject matter in clear and simple terms.

A film of our times.