Film Preview: Margin Call (2011)

on Wednesday, August 10, 2011
'Margin Call' (2011) // Words: Raman Kamboh

Last week’s global financial bloodbath has rebooted the public’s indignation about a financial services system in which so few can impact so many. There will, therefore, scarcely be a more appropriate time for FG to preview the promising 'Margin Call', a drama/thriller set in an unnamed New York investment bank 24 hours prior to the onset of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The world’s entire financial system was nearly dragged into oblivion in the 48 hours following the collapse of New York based investment bank Lehman Brothers, in September 2008. A bankruptcy 10 times the size of Enron, Lehman catapulted to the ground at tremendous speed sparking a global financial contagion.

In reaction to plunging markets, governments worldwide bailed out economies through funding lines, cash injections and lending guarantees. Try not to shudder, but the IMF values this at $9 trillion USD. It was all triggered by a single investment bank.

The cast is a smart use of talent, balancing heavyweights Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons in fitting senior management roles, with Hollywood’s ascending stars Zachary Quinto ('Star Trek') and Penn Badgely ('Gossip Girl') as junior employees and central protagonists to the firm’s horrifying epiphany; multi-billion dollar investments losses will lead to a 'Margin Call', liquidation (or worse) for the firm and a shockwave through the US economy.

The magnetism to this film is inevitable. “Looming recession” makes an inescapably powerful cinematic arena. The trailer is a meaty sequence of dramatic realizations of an impending collapse, full blooded antagonism between characters across plush boardrooms and New York skylines, an all-nighter office environment thick with pressure, and of course, colleagues being called back from their presumed team-building exercise at the strip club.

The interest in this film won’t be centred on the reasons behind the 2008 financial crisis. 'Inside Job' comprehensively covered that in fantastic retrospective fashion, but unfortunately not to mass appeal. An intellectual and brutally honest documentary, without the Michael Moore-esque satire and levity in the face of gross human error, may have proved too disheartening to recommend as a must-see.

Perhaps 'Margin Call' is our chance to experience the cauldron. The film pivots on the edge of financial Armageddon and the moral fibre in the actions of the perpetrators. Potentially watching an entire cast of complicit villains, we’re interested in dramatising the grey areas - decisions fuelled by egotism or bravado, greed or desperation, deliberate deception or market negligence, and ultimately the tragic weakness at the foundation of these people.

The pedigree of characters and their personal insecurities are given space to flourish. Maybe remorse is on the cards, but given what we know since the crash, it remains a delicate topic to depict believably.

This is writer/director JC Chandor’s first feature-length outing and there is clearly momentum behind his creation, debuting to encouraging praise at Sundance 2011. Where 'Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps' failed to captivate, 'Margin Call' may have the optimum contemporary relevance to become a huge hit.

'Margin Call' is due out in October 2011 in the UK.

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