Margin Call (2011)
Dir: J. C. Chandor
So, that’s how the recession happened!
A film, set primarily in offices and boardrooms, about financial trading. That sounds like it will be boring and not worth watching. However, it is very good, and informative.
Margin Call is set in a financial trading firm, and right at the very opening of the film there are cuts being made to the workforce, with about 80% of certain departments being let go. It’s somewhat reminiscent of ‘Up In The Air’, where the other side of the table was shown, offering people severance packages which ultimately are no compensation for the loss of a good job. These cuts are just the tip of the iceberg however, as one fired employee (the ever brilliant Stanley Tucci) passes on his work to a surviving subordinate, Peter Sullivan (‘Star Trek’s’ new Spock Zachary Quinto) warning him to be careful. When Sullivan looks at it that night he realises that the company holds assets that will inevitably decrease in value while they hold them, but those losses will alone be worth more than the entire value of the firm, and that this depreciation has been going on for at least a few days.
The news is then passed up the seniority of executives, which include Paul Bettany, then Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, all the way to the man at the top, Jeremy Irons. A staggeringly incredible cast. The complex situation is explained to each, at one point “as if speaking to a young child”, giving the viewer time to understand the meaning of it, which essentially you need to be a rocket scientist to have understood from the raw data (which Quinto’s character was). The firm then goes into damage limitation mode, which brings in huge ethical considerations, and we see as each employee at every level is confronted with taking the reality of that on board.
Watching this, it made me think of a courtroom drama, where evidence is offered, but it’s the arguments presented by people in the room that are the source of the action. I would describe this as a ‘boardroom drama’, in exactly the same manner, that we are presented with verbal arguments, differing positions, legal, ethical and moral questions, however there’s no judge here to decide what’s right or wrong, just the viewer, and posterity.