Review: Margin Call


America has been in a financial flux for a number of years, and all of us living here have felt the problems that have resulted from the crises of the past few years. Margin Call attempts to craft a narrative around the initial crash and explain exactly what happened and why it affected so many people. However, despite great performances by the cast, the overall story is still muddy and hampered down by terminology unfamiliar to those that work outside of business.

Margin Call
Director: J.C. Chandor
Rating: R
Release Date: October 21, 2011

Following the majority firing of a business investment firm, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) takes on a project that his old boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), recommended he take a look at. After crunching the numbers and realizing that the company’s losses greatly outnumber their gross value, Sullivan turns to his co-worker, Seth Bregman (Penn Badgely), and bosses, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey). As they discover the ramifications of the numbers, they turn to the firm’s CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), who makes the decision to sell the majority of their stocks, even if it results in the complete breakdown of the stock market.

If that summary sounds confusing to you, it’s because I didn’t really have a handle on the details of the plot. To generalize it even more: Peter discovers the company is more in debt than their gross revenue, the CEO decides to sell all of their stock to willing investors that are unaware of this fact, causing a huge financial crash that essentially destroys the stock market for years. Demi Moore has a minor role as an employee who knew of the situation a long time prior to the event, yet didn’t do her best to alert the higher-ups… or something.

Besides the plot, the rest of the film is entertaining. I found myself really interested in what the characters were gonna do next, which was surprising, considering how little I cared for the subject matter. This, of course, was due to the performances of the cast. If I had one gripe about the characters, it’d be how stereotypical each character was. Peter was the young, smart guy who was able to discover the problem; Seth was the best friend who was really only there for minor comedy; Will was the flashy young boss; Sam was the one with authority who actually had a sensitive side; Tuld was the de facto boss who had to make the tough decisions despite the consequences. Eh.

The pacing also helped to engage my attention. The film takes place over a 24-hour time span, so every few minutes were charged with energy. I wasn’t kept at the edge of my seat, per se, but I was definitely excited to see what would happen next. Is there an established genre for the “money thriller?” If not, Margin Call definitely fits that description perfectly.

As someone who has little to no interest in the stock market or anything related, I was still entertained by film. Again, I didn’t really understand the majority of the plot, but the actors performed well enough to make up for that fact. Extra kudos go to the three leads, Quinto, Bettany, and Spacey. Will the premise scare away potential audiences? Perhaps. But if you somehow find yourself in a screening for Margin Call, you’ll be surprised at how engrossing it is.