REVIEW: “Margin Call” Humanizes The 1 Percent
This first feature film of writer/director JC Chandor is based on the financial crisis of 2008 and follows employees of a fictitious bank on Wall Street headed by CEO John Tuld, played by Jeremy Irons (“Eragon”). The ominous tone of the film is projected in the opening shot of the blank-faced human resources team marching into the office to lay off employees one by one. Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”) plays employee Eric Dale who is fired. He leaves his junior employee Peter Sullivan, played by Zachary Quinto (“Startrek”) with a project he has been working on, telling him to “be careful.” As Sullivan delves into the project, his findings reveal that the company will collapse if it does not sell its assets, which no longer have value. The rest of the film focuses on the power struggle between executives as they decide to sell the assets before the news can spread about their worthlessness, dooming the market and financial system of the country, and the world, for years to come. Despite the complexity of economics, the plot can still be followed by those who are not knowledgeable about financial crisis, and ultimately the main point of the film is the complexity of the characters behind the it.
The cast also includes talented actors Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”), Demi Moore (“G.I. Jane”), and Paul Bettany (“A Beautiful Mind”), and each of their characters have their own great monologues and insights into the world of Wall Street. In the context of today’s economy, many view the bankers of Wall Street as corrupt and evil, but Quinto, who also produced the film, explains, the film really shows the “shades of gray” that make up the characters. He says that Chandor really wanted to “present the characters in a way that generates feeling from the audience rather than tells them what to feel.” While some characters like Tuld are portrayed as stereotypical greedy businessmen, many characters are revealed to be normal people who make mistakes and are put into difficult situations.
While Sullivan is the film’s moral hero for a majority of the movie, he eventually falls into the firm’s trap. But Kevin Spacey’s performance as Sam Rogers, the head of trading, is the one of the most powerful in the film and evokes empathy from the audience. At first audiences do not have sympathy for him as he cries about his dying dog while his employees are losing their jobs. However, by the end of the movie the audience sees how his career with the firm has worn him down, having dealt with greedy bosses and harmful decisions for over 30 years. He becomes the films antihero, knowing what he is doing is wrong and having to live with the consequences. Tuld tells Rogers that he should understand by now that his job requires involves “digging ditches,” and this is later symbolically shown when the film closes with Rogers digging a grave for his dog, leaving the audience with a feeling of dread and hopelessness as the sound of his digging continues to play as the credits roll.
Despite it’s star-studded cast the film had a relatively low budget of $3.5 million, about as much as one episode of a TV show, and was shot in seventeen days.
“Margin Call” is now showing in select theaters.
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