Margin Call

Art & Culture


It's a pity that this has come and gone from cinema screens so quickly, since it is an excellent film, but make sure you catch in on DVD; it would make an excellent double bill with Inside Job. This is my kind of film – talky, intelligent and dealing with the real world.
The time is a couple of years ago. The location is a major investment bank not unlike Lehmanns. They're having a big staff clearout, and one of those who has been given the heave ho is Eric (Stanley Tucci). As he gets into the lift for the last time, he hands a USB file to young Peter (Zachary Quinto), asks him to look at it, and tells him to be careful. Peter looks at the file, does some extra work, and finds out that the firm is about to go belly up big time. He calls in his immediate boss, Will (Paul Bettany), and tells him the bad news. Will calls his own boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey), who sees the way the wind is blowing, and before long all the big guns have arrived, including CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), and there's a middle of the night board meeting at which extreme options are decided upon, which will have fateful consequences.
In other words, this is a specific story about one firm on the dawn of the Big Crash so eloquently explained in Inside Job, only this time, there are characters, actors and a plot which is partly fictional. But the gist of the matter is the same. These companies took massive risks, and made a load of money. When the shit hit the fan, they bailed out, and the shit dripped down off the fan – onto us. In a world in which hit movies deal with pirates, transformers, space ships and animated animals, anything as real as this story is going to struggle to find an audience – or even cinemas to allow audiences to choose whether to see it. The calibre of the cast was enough to get it made – and I imagine it was not expensive – but persuading your friendly local multiplex chain to pit this against Puss In Boots or Mission Impossible is a step too far. As I say, dvd is your best option.
What I will also say is that the appeal of the film is not just the subject matter, but the elegance and eloquence of the script, by first time director J C Chandor, who either knows a lot about the subject, or else knows someone else who is an expert. Considering the complexity of the issues, and the multi-character plot, it all works remarkably well, and is easy to follow. There are good guys and bad guys (this is primarily a guy film, though Demi Moore is included among the suits), but there are at least some shades of grey, and more remarkably, we even have some feeling for the people involved. Stanley Tucci is, as always, magnificent, and it's a treat to see Paul Bettany play a real person; Jeremy irons has a a whale of a time as the vulpine boss, and Kevin Spacey is unusually sympathetic. I know some of you are saying, 'yeah, but do I real want to watch a film about the financial crisis?" My answer would be, 'yes you do, especially if the alternatives involve CGI, fart jokes, and romcoms with Jennifer Aniston and/or Adam Sandler." Being grown up can be fun as well.



Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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