Margin Call – Review by Susan Granger

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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.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).