Margin Call (2012) – directed by J.C. Chandor

A midweek night off so Seema and I headed off to the Rialto in Newmarket to see J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call. I have not been to the Rialto for some time. Perhaps it was the particular cinema that we were in but I must say that it was awful environment to watch a film in. The sound was far too loud (and this was not an action film), yet somehow you could still hear the air-conditioning droning in the background. Oh, and the floor lighting was distractingly bright. I hoped that Margin Call was going to immerse me enough to remove me from these real world woes … and it did, ironically because it is about another very real world woe, the risky numerical terrors of the investment banking sector.

Margin Call is in essence a dramatic thriller about the 2008 financial meltdown. It follows Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) as he discovers a major crack in the strategy of a generic, but large, investment bank that he works for. This poses an awkward moral decision, the implications of which could trigger a major recession. Does the bank save itself and let the market suffer, or risk its own death? In his debut feature J.C. Chandor handles this topic with aplomb. He explains to his audience enough vital information before moving on, but does so transparently enough so as not to be patronising. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit that I knew very little about the recent recession and Margin Call has opened my eyes as to the how the greed that caused this does not on the surface appear as greed. As such, the finance jockeys who are riding the risk game with other peoples money lack the sufficient moral perspective to fall back on. The film explores the alienation suffered by the banks protagonists who run up and down the chain of command in this ugly capitalist machine, safely distanced from the final results on the street. Some struggle with their own moral codes whilst others justify it, all the while showing how difficult is is to walk away from it all. Margin Call is not a definitive statement on what happened in the 2008 meltdown but instead is a personal exploration into how people live in denial about what is so blatantly in front of them.

Shot almost entirely on one floor, the film’s cinematography (Frank D. DeMarco) competently paints the claustrophobic environment of a detached corporate battleground. Most notably Margin Call is a cleaver example of how a script can explore a complex situation in simple terms. For a relatively shoe-string budget (US$3 million) it is a wonder that Chandor, a newcomer to feature films, managed the obtain such a stellar cast. His cleaver and tight script certainly had something to do with it. Stalwarts such as Tucci, Spacey, Irons, and Moore certainly wouldn’t have been doing it for the money. Kevin Spacey really displays his acting chops, commanding screen presence as he ducks and dives through his moral dilemma all the while being hounded by the excellent Jeremy Irons. It is also worth noting Stanley Tucci’s small but significant role. His opening scene, which depicts his robotic and clinical dismissal haunts the remainder of the film.

A competent first outing for Chandor … worth keeping an eye on him.