March 22, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 60°F


‘Margin Call’: Drama cashes in on acting

As people protest Wall Street in cities across the country, the men and women of the “1 percent” have come to the forefront of media attention.

It’s perfect timing for “Margin Call,” a new drama about an investment bank, which tells the story of how bank leaders knowingly choose to ruin the economy to save their own billion-dollar salaries.

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, this adrenaline-packed film is void of gunshots, chase scenes or a forced love story. Instead, it follows a day at work for stock market traders on Wall Street, including risk management employee Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). As security escorts his boss and mentor, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), from the building as part of mass layoffs, Eric gives Peter a flash drive, telling him to look into what he was working on, but with caution.

Eric and his co-worker Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) alert Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), that the company’s downfall is already in progress, Will calls in CEO John Tuild (Jeremy Irons) who ultimately makes a life-changing
decision as the tension mounts,
despite moral objections from risk management head Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and head of sales Sam Rodgers (Kevin Spacey).

The big-city skyscraper in which most of the film is set looks authentic, without flashy special effects. Even the costuming is minimal. The camerawork is simple but crisp, never straying from the calamitous tone — over-the-shoulder shots tighten on the action. The gripping instrumental score and fitting absence of pop songs supports the tense atmosphere of caution and danger. Without frills, the film relies on the ensemble cast filled with well-known stars.

Chandor’s script delves into the morality of what the traders will do to millions of people through brilliant debates and speeches. His writing outshines his directing, though the direction emerges with strength in the boardroom scenes, showing the coordination and thought necessary for a film without a main character, focusing on wide shots of the group and balancing individual character moments.

Standout performances come from actors in smaller roles. Irons delivers with a cruelty typical for the power-hungry, and does justice to his part. Moore deserved more screen time as she proved to be excellent in a mature role with her illustration of a powerful woman whose wise decisions were overpowered by male co-workers. Spacey plays intensely emotional moments perfectly without making the crisis seem dull or drawn out.

Audiences can guess how the story ends, having seen it many times over in banks since the financial collapse began in 2007. But the drama is not wasted. Detailing the motivations and decisions behind the economic decline in this retelling does justice to the huge impact of the decisions.

“Margin Call” is not only appealing because of its star power and strongly written dialogue, but because it is a story of current times, when the actions of a few can impact many. This striking film elucidates how just a morning of trading caused years of chaos.

“Margin Call” was directed and written by J.C. Chandor.

3.5 stars out of 4