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Saw this last night. Set at a Wall Street firm on the night in 2008
when the leaders realize that changes in the market will wipe them out
if they don't immediately stop selling the products that have been
making them all rich, the movie centers on the moral dilemma -
recognized by some characters but dismissed by others - that they face
in unwinding their positions, saving themselves but shifting the pain
The movie finds a way to hold the mirror up to our civilization, showing how we are all complicit in a collective 'dream' (one character says at one point, in response to another who says he feels like he is in a 'dream', 'Funny, it seems like I just woke up'). The dream is the illusion of easy, risk-managed wealth that the financial markets manufacture, again and again, since the emergence of capital markets 200 years ago, until the illusion morphs overnight into a panic. Reality intervenes, fear takes over, and the 'survivor' is the guy who first reaches the lifeboat. So there are no villains in this movie, just people, richly drawn, beautifully acted characters realized by some of our best actors who relish the opportunity to show what they can do given a killer script and enough screen time between lines to actually be the people they are portraying.
Central to the movie's success:
1) It gets across the essence of what is going on in the financial markets without bogging us down or dumbing it down
2) finding a moral question that can be resolved in a night, yet which is nevertheless a perfect allegory for the whole set of moral questions raised by an economy that works the way ours does, rewarding false confidence, recklessness, and deceit as often as industry, skill, and integrity
3) the placement of young, innocent but perceptive characters at the center of the drama, who function as our eyes and ears, who are like stand-ins for all of us who weren't there, at the heart of the dream machine, when the latest fantasy of easy wealth was exposed as a collective delusion
4) really 'gets' the trader ethos and manner - they are a kind of warrior caste, foul-mouthed, impulsive, deeply selfish, surviving by their ability to outplay their counterparts, and yet living by a warrior code that sets boundaries on what they will and will not do to one another (having spent three years on Wall Street several panics ago, it rang as true as any movie I have seen on the subject)
It's like Mamet, except you don't have to work as hard to figure out what everyone's up to. It's like Chinatown, except the 'crime' is something far worse than molesting a single young girl. These guys f****d the entire planet, for Ch*****sake. It's like the best movie I've seen in a little while.
What an incredibly sure hand from a director on his maiden voyage! Who is this guy? Whoever you are, please don't stop. I would pay a lot to see what he could do with topics like 'the decision to go to war', or 'the emergence of China/India/Brazil/Indonesia from poverty to global player'. Hell I would go see him revive Mother Goose, after this debut.
I'll calm down now. Enjoy.
Saw this at New Directors festival in NYC and really enjoyed and was engrossed in this film. A great cast with splendid performances. The film is very intense and although it is about a company involved in the financial meltdown of 2008, it really is about much more. I particularly liked the way the film depicts the frightening absolute and ruthless power of the corporation over the lives of people that work there as well as the implications and ripples for everyone else.How those people get sucked in to the embrace, security and pleasures of what the corporations have to offer and the consequences and vulnerabilities of those choices.The freedom and comforts that we cherish here in twenty first century USA are not as secure as we might think. Don't want to say much more, other than that "Margin Call" is very involving and in the end affecting and thought provoking.It packs a powerful punch.
The movie "Margin Call" depicts the events that immediately preceded
the Financial Crisis in 2008 within a nameless Investment Bank. What I
like especially about the movie is the fact that it doesn't try to
explain the technical causes of the Financial Crisis but the
psychological causes - human failures, which are the real cause for the
Crisis: greed, egotism, ignorance. Many scenes in this movie deal with
very little dialogue, instead the body language and the unique
atmosphere speaks for itself. The ensemble is just brilliant,
especially Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons.
The movie works solely from inside the nameless firm apart from minor steps outside. It only portraits the people working inside this company - the "normal world" is completely left out. The effect is a very clever one: The life of these bankers seems totally severed from the outside world, they have no real connection with normal people and seem to speaking exaggeratingly lack an understanding of real human values, that there could be more behind life than just maximizing and making money. They are completely left behind in their own world, which somehow got out of control. Even when the imminent truth reveals and the consequences are becoming more clearer, it always feels like they are cut off; there is a scene in a taxi with Quinto and Badgley that underlines this.
But one can also witness the cold-blooded atmosphere in the system itself, where every person could easily be mistaken as a number. A key figure of the film, Eric Dale, who gets sacked in the beginning, is confronted with two managers in a scene like from "Up In The Air". Either are these women robots or have never experienced something like social warmth. One widely held position is that eventually bankers themselves didn't understand their own system and products with Derivatives and Futures, etc. anymore. Almost hilarious, but sadly true is the fact that many people in these companies seem to have no understanding of Economics and just got into their position due to influence or money. When they are sitting in their conference room and discuss the incident, it feels somewhat grotesque.
Although this movie works almost completely without music, the tension is so immense - thanks to the brilliant actors - that one is forced to focus.
While I am a big fan of Oliver Stone and I did enjoy his second Wall
Street movie, I have to admit, that this one is superior in every way.
Great acting talent at hand, great (unfortunately) real story, which
might be a bit heightened for obvious reasons, but still very scary if
you think about the whole thing.
As stated above the actors make a big difference. They have to convey decisions and stand by things that you shouldn't normally do. But then again it's not as if this didn't happen (one way or the other). The movie also seems to have affected people since its original slated release date got pushed forward. Festival releases (where I saw it too) and the general good response made that an easy decision. Watching this should be one too ...
Having been the victim of corporate downsizing more than once, I was
immediately engaged with this propulsive 2011 corporate drama from the
beginning as Stanley Tucci's character, a seasoned risk management
executive named Eric Dale, is told in a coldly indifferent manner that
he is being laid off after 19 years with the same unnamed Wall Street
firm. It's a piercing yet dramatically economical scene that perfectly
summarizes how bloodless the corporate world can be, and in first-time
writer/director J.C. Chandor's effort set on the eve of the 2008
financial crisis , it is very cold indeed with 80% of the trading floor
being let go. As Dale is escorted out of the building, he hands a flash
drive to his prodigious assistant Peter Sullivan and tells him to take
a look at it and "Be careful."
Once Sullivan analyzes the data, he realizes the universal gravity of Dale's warning - that the firm is so over-committed to underwater mortgage-backed securities that the total potential loss exceeds the firm's total market capitalization value. In other words, the projected scenario means the firm will soon owe a lot more than it's worth, and the market will be on the verge of an apocalyptic meltdown. What happens after this discovery is a series of sharply intense clandestine confrontations with each level of higher-ups recognizing the ramifications of the inevitable disaster, each one far more nuanced in character than we are used to seeing in films from Oliver Stone about greed and immorality. Blessedly, Chandor doesn't stoop to the customary stereotypes in this corporate cage match, but what he does manage is capture the moral compass underneath each player by way of a cast that really delivers the goods with powerfully implosive performances.
Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek") is initially at the center of the plot as Sullivan and performs well enough in the constraining, semi-heroic role, but the veterans really stand out here beginning with Kevin Spacey, who effectively plays against type as Sam Rogers, a genuine company man, the seen-it-all head of the trading team who rallies what's left of the trading floor with corporate brio but then faces his own cross to bear struggling to commandeer a fire sale of worthless assets dumped on unsuspecting clients. The other standout is Jeremy Irons, who masterfully resuscitates the cool cunning of his Claus von Bulow from "Reversal of Fortune" as the acerbically survivalist CEO John Tuld. He handily controls the boardroom scene with cutting humor and hostile precision. One of the film's more pleasant surprises is Demi Moore in cool, brisk form as Sarah Robertson, the top risk officer and lone female executive who knows her career is at stake with the discovery of this folly. Tucci is excellent in his smallish role as Dale and gets to show off his resigned character's engineering aptitude with a brief monologue about building a bridge.
Comparatively less impressive but playing their more predictable roles fitfully are Penn Badgley as Sullivan's younger, overtly money-obsessed colleague Seth Bregman; Paul Bettany as Dale's nihilistic, snake-oil salesman of a boss, Will Emerson; and Simon Baker as the most morally despicable executive of the bunch, Jared Cohen. Mary McDonnell has a brief and frankly unnecessary scene as Rogers' ex-wife, and I didn't even recognize the usually hilarious Broadway personality Susan Blackwell as the hatchet woman in the opening scene. There are a few flaws with Chandor's observant screenplay, for example, the overly analogous scenes of Rogers dealing with his dying dog and a rooftop scene that plays up Emerson's nihilistic nature too predictably. In addition, some scenes play either too murkily or too clinically to achieve the precise dramatic effect they should. I think the absence of a musical score also contributes to the sterility of the proceedings. However, as a first-time filmmaker, Chandor more than impresses with his deft handling of such a zeitgeist moment with the Occupy Wall Street protests gaining understandable momentum right now.
It's difficult to review Margin Call. Those of us who were close to the
events of 2008 will find something personal in the story-telling.
Others may see it as more examples of greed and hubris. In any case,
the following observations apply to both groups.
The performances are top notch. Everyone from Zachary Quinto to Demi Moore brings their A-game. Even supporting characters are oddly fleshed out for a film with such an ensemble cast. Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany give the performances of their careers, I think. Only the Jeremy Irons character (John Tuld, aka Dick Fuld) feels a bit over the top, while the rest are truly believable well-rounded depictions.
Despite having good characters and amazing cinematography, the film lacks plot. The backdrop and setting are tense, but this doesn't feel like a "movie" in the traditional sense. There's no evolution of characters, no arcs, and the ending may leave some wanting. You can compare it to Michael Mann films where plot and pace are unconventional.
Not sure how the film will perform commercially, given the material is esoteric. If you're a film buff (and enjoy great performances) or you've been in finance, this is a must-see. Other may likely pass.
I saw this film as part of the Ghent filmfestival 2011. Its
announcement promised an inside view in the financial industry, and
particularly how it could cause the recent financial crisis. And
precisely this is what it did splendidly. I gave it a "very good"mark
(5 out of 5) for the public prize competition when leaving the theater.
I particularly liked the way they avoided the techno babble about financial products, from which we all learned the hard way to be paper constructs only, none of these related with things in the real world. The story also clearly illustrates that higher echelons in the financial industry do not understand those technicalities either, something we assumed all along but didn't dare to ask for confirmation.
Departing from the very different purposes and backgrounds of the main characters, the story line got us involved in the attempts of each of them to cope with the situation at hand. Though their job motivations may drastically differ from yours and mine, this film had no really distinct good and bad guys.
The main characters were properly introduced in the time-line when logically needed. We got the chance to know each of them, with their own coping behavior in this volatile environmeant, yet everyone bringing along his own human characteristics. In the process we also saw the golden chains to attach each of them to the company, making it virtually impossible to cut themselves loose from this line of work. We may call it greed, but it is a fact of life that everyone gets used to incoming cash flow, however large and unnecessary it may seem in our eyes. Once being there, it is logical to buy a bigger house and to send kids to expensive schools. After that there is no easy way back, and each one smoothly grows into a life style that is difficult to escape from.
The story line as such is not that important, apart from the fact that it succeeds very well in tying all the above together. It also maintains a constant tension all the time. I consider both aspects an achievement in itself, since nothing really happens in terms of dead bodies, physical fights, and chasing cars. Only a few short scenes were shot outside, but all the rest happened in a standard office building. The final outdoor scene was a bit unexpected (I won't spoil it for you), but it shows that even bankers are human after all.
If you want to witness an acting clinic put on by an incredibly talented ensemble cast, look no further than J.C. Chandor's take on the beginnings of the 2008 financial crisis. The film follows an unnamed firm, which awakens to the reality of the economic catastrophe that was to come. The tense emotion of the situation was held steady by the ensemble throughout the film. Bettany, Quinto, and Badgley, all turned in superb performances, but it was Tucci, Spacey, and Irons that stood out as excellent. It was witnessing the brink of a tragedy that draws parallels to the 2006 film, "Flight 93" (minus the deep heartbreak "93" leaves us with). For "Margin Call", the storyline and setting may be repetitive but not enough to let you sit back and zone out.
This film was a great follow up to Inside Job, which described the big picture and background of the 2008 fall of the investment industry. Margin Call zooms in on the workings and the actual down and dirty business of one of the main (but unnamed) brokerage houses. This film captured our attention and interest, while heightening our "concerns" over the reality portrayed. The agony and defeat of the hard working, loyal employees was displayed in their faces and body language, lending to our empathy for the staff being "used", while abhorring the situation. The twenty four hour workplace dilemma is told and carried out realistically, with time flying for the totally engaged viewer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So here goes my first review on IMDb.
This is a movie for those that want to see the human element when an investment bank realizes their models are wrong and that they are sitting on a large amount of assets worth less than they are currently marked at.
There are 2 errors that just about everybody is making about this movie, though. The first is that this movie is about the September 2008 financial crash. That is false. This movie is about the collapse of the CDO/MBS market in *2007*(what led to I-Banks going belly up in 08). That also didn't happen in 1 day(while there were some very bad days), it occurred over several months. Google "ABX Index" and select images and you'll see that for yourself. But for the interest of time and simplicity "Margin Call" simplified the actions of firms over those several months into 1 day and the actions of dozens(if not hundreds) of people into a handful which is understandable.
The second error is that this nameless firm is one of the I-banks that went under or was sold like Lehman, Bear, Merrill, etc. The movie is clearly (in my mind at least) modeled after Goldman Sachs. The first reason is because they are seen as the first I-bank to aggressively try to scale back their exposure to MBS. The second reason would be a spoiler, but lets just say that Goldman is pretty aggressive at "making way for new blood" relative to the others even though the movies depiction was way overblown.
I think many will be happy to know that the amount of "inside lingo" is kept to a minimum, but that doesn't mean that you will be able to understand a handful of things mentioned without a pretty good cursory knowledge of financial jargon. Don't worry though its not needed to understand the movie.
For those that are looking for a story depicting causes of the financial crisis this movie isn't it. If your looking for a movie depicting evil people conniving in a board room to screw over the public this isn't it.
This movie is about an analyst who discovers that the volatility assumptions in their MBS portfolio were false and that it could very easily take down the entire company. Its a movie depicting the increasingly suspenseful and gripping atmosphere when a firm realizes they are sitting on a large pile of illiquid assets worth less than they thought. Its a movie depicting the concern of particular players that their reputation will be shot when they are forced to market make assets that will "kill the market" for MBS.
Its a movie that depicts the actions of a firm "So that...they...may...survive."
Acting was great. Direction was great. Script was decent! Watch this movie if you want to understand the most accurate depiction so far of the types of characters inside Investment Banks during a scary period.
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