Margin Call ★★★★☆

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Recent films concerning either Wall Street or the current economic situation have been erratic in quality. For every Inside Job we get a Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Thankfully Margin Call is more akin to the former and marks an excellent debut from writer/director J.C. Chandor.

Chandor’s film does not look so much at the crisis itself, but rather the people behind it. Set in 2008, Senior Risk analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is fired from an investment firm. Before leaving he passes a USB stick to younger analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) warning him to ‘be careful’ with the data that it holds. Sullivan analyses the information before discovering that the firm is in dire financial trouble. Gradually more and more of the firms higher-level personnel are brought in to assess the situation before coming to the conclusion that the best way out may be to sell their now worthless assets to trusting customers, with the risk of polluting the financial sector.

The film’s cast ranging from Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto to Paul Bettany as his supervisor and Demi Moore as the possible scapegoat are terrific, excelling in their admirably non-showy yet compelling roles. Particularly good are Kevin Spacey, injecting his usual dry wit into a conflicted floor head whilst also presenting the inner turmoil within him well and Jeremy Irons, obviously enjoying himself whilst playing the ruthless yet honest CEO who almost gleefully admits at one point that “it wasn’t brains that got me here, I can assure you of that”.

Chandor’s script is engaging and slick, reflecting the enormity of the situation well whilst also respecting its audience enough not to present everything in a ‘paint-by-numbers’ fashion. Chandor also deserves credit for not stooping to simple demonization of the admittedly easy targets of the traders whilst also not attempting to condone their actions either. Whilst the greed is wholly present and is never tiptoed around, you get a sense that most of the characters are seemingly caught up in the confusion and chaos surrounding them.

Admittedly some may be put off by this aspect of the film through the lack of any clear characters with whom they can truly support and sympathise with whilst others may feel slightly underwhelmed by the ending. These, however, are relatively minor gripes with what is an assured example of intelligent and compelling filmmaking.

Margin Call (2011), directed by J.C. Chandor, is distributed in the UK by Stealth Media Group, certificate 15.

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