Margin Call – Review by Susan Granger
From Wall Street protestors to global demonstrations against greed, you can’t get timelier than J.C. Chandor’s topical thriller that unfolds in 2008 over the course of roughly 24 hours, showing how one financial firm dumped worthless assets on unsuspecting customers.
As it begins, there’s downsizing at a prestigious company high atop Manhattan’s financial district. As risk analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is unceremoniously escorted from the building, he passes a computer file to junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), whispering an ominous warning, “Be careful.”
When Peter peeks into the graphs of numbers, a look of utter horror pass over his face. Unless someone can stop it, there’s going to be economic Armageddon. So Peter alerts his boss, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), who, in turn, summons his superior, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who recognizes the moral dilemma, muttering, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better, much worse.”
Dire peril is confirmed by head risk honchos Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), and panic mounts in the wee hours of the morning as, on the roof, a helicopter lands belonging to ruthless CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), whose name ironically rhymes with Fuld.
With tense executives gathered around a conference table, Fuld turns to 28 year-old Sullivan, a former rocket scientist, demanding, “Explain this to me in simple terms, as you would a young child or a golden retriever.”
Then in a shrewdly decisive move to separate “the fat cats from the starving dogs,” the firm’s highly-paid analysts are offered exorbitant bonuses to liquidate inventory immediately – at any cost – as the debacle spirals out of control.
First-time writer/director J.C. Chandor learned Wall Street fundamentals from his father, Jeffrey, who worked for Merrill Lynch for almost 40 years. Chandor’s fast-paced, cut-throat dialogue is reminiscent of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” as action is primarily confined to the office building.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Margin Call” is an intriguing 8 – with its release as fortuitous as “The China Syndrome” was to Three Mile Island.