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Margin Call

May 27, 2013

Margin Call (2011)
Director: J.C. Chandor
Actors: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany

Margin Call

Synopsis: An unspecified bank in New York in 2008. A sacked risk analyst (Stanley Tucci) has begun to compile a report highlighting the essential, flawed mathematical end-game of the bank’s trading patterns. Young risk analyst, Peter (Zachary Quinto), completes the report, and when he escalates the gravity of it, it reaches all the way to the top executives at the bank – all of whom are forced to make stark personal and professional decisions based on the bank’s impending implosion.

Review: Documenting the implosion of an unnamed New York bank in 2008, Margin Call is a direct commentary on the real-life stratospheric banking collapse of the very same year. Though perhaps trying a little too hard at times to project a macro-profundity on its banks imploding thesis (Kevin Spacey’s dying dog is a slightly obvious metaphor), Margin Call gets most of its tactics just right.

Perhaps its most prescient triumph is as a great exposé of the fundamental insanity of the financial system, where banks were essentially trading on abstract securities based on projected mathematical equations. It’s a true ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ moral, and when Zachary Quinto’s earnest young risk analyst pulls the cloak on this undignified numerical charade by pointing out the flawed mathematics at the centre of it, the movie really hits its stride as the revelation sends a ripple through the different strata of the banking hierarchy.

Having a super ensemble cast really helps director J.C. Chandor tell his story, and each of them – without exception – inhabit their respective roles so convincingly. It seems unfair to highlight particular performances, but Paul Bettany’s fly sales-boy (boasting about just how easily his huge expendable salary is frittered), and Jeremy Iron’s reptilian, totally ammoral CEO, are perhaps the stand outs. The de facto 24 hour running time also really works, transmitting just how septic and awfully unpleasant these people’s lives really are – they work really long pressurised hours to earn a lot of money which sustains…working really long pressurised hours! Never also has a movie made the skyscraper panorama of New York seem so unalluring. (May 2013)

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