Margin Call

Be First.
Be Smarter.
Or Cheat.

“Margin Call” (2011), which I have watched more than 20 times already (a real feat for any film in my household), is one of my all-time favorite films that manages, as The Guardian put it in its review at the time, to be “[…] the best fictional treatment of the current economic crisis.” That’s no real surprise though as there aren’t really any other worthwhile ones.

It’s a film with an absolutely wonderful ensemble cast and the film that brought Zachary Quinto to my attention, who is excellent in every single scene. Not a dud among the lot. Even Demi Moore manages to shine.

The best thing is that you don’t really need to understand or know much about the markets to follow the film. The dialogue is constructed in a way that understanding the details doesn’t really matter (and isn’t really central to the film).

Loosely based on the Lehman Brothers, the film shows the last few hours before the sh*t hits the fan and the financial crisis manifests itself in all its ugly glory.

In its review, The Atlantic pretty much nailed what I like about the film and, if you allow, I’ll quote a larger chunk than I usually quote around here:

“[…] There are discussions of blame (which runs, as ever, downhill); bouts of lofty rationalization; and weighings of self-preservation against the public interest. (One need not be a student of the crisis to know how these turn out.) When Spacey warns of creating a panic in the markets, Irons responds drily, ‘If you’re the first one out the door, that’s not called panicking.’

Margin Call is perforated with sharp insights. Each ascending echelon of the bank’s hierarchy has a weaker understanding of the complex financial instruments they are trading than the one beneath it. (‘Just speak to me in English,’ Spacey tells his analysts at one point; ‘Speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever,’ requests Irons at another.) And though this is a story of people wedded to their jobs, the lone female executive (Demi Moore) is the only one for whom that marriage appears to be exclusive, and the consolations of family an unaffordable luxury.

The cast is uniformly and uncommonly good, even by their generally lofty standards. Spacey in particular offers his best performance in years, emerging bit by bit as the closest thing the movie has to a conscience, however muddied. And Moore has a brittle, sexless authenticity as the Only Woman in the Room. This may be her first film set in an office in which no one throws anyone else lustfully across a desk.

Chandor’s direction is understated but self-assured, and his script—which has more than a hint of Mamet to it — superb. Indeed, this is the all-too-rare film that began with a screenplay and then filled in the ‘talent,’ rather than the other way around. (It is also the fledgling venture of Quinto’s production company, Before the Door.)


If you haven’t seen this film yet, do check it out, if only for the wonderful screenplay and acting.
It’s absolutely fabulous.
And nothing whatsoever explodes.

Besides the world’s markets, of course.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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