Monday, September 10, 2012

Margin Call

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, Margin Call is the story of a group of investment bank employees dealing with a financial collapse during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The film explores the world of finances told by a group of people in the span of 36 hours as they all try to figure out how to get out of the crisis. Starring Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Mary McDonnell, and Stanley Tucci. Margin Call is a captivating ensemble drama from J.C. Chandor.

After laying off several workers including firm manager Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), Dale asks one of his risk analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) to look over a report he had been trying to finish with a warning. Sullivan works late to look into Dale’s report where he makes a startling discovery as he calls junior risk analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) and trading desk head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) about what he sees. They call their floor head Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) about the report as they realize that due to excessive marketing, the firm assets in mortgage-backed securities have decreased more than 25% as the firm is in danger of losing a whole lot more. Rogers asks Bregman and Emerson to locate Dale who has disappeared as they were unable to find him as the four men are called to a meeting.

They meet Rogers’ superior Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and chief risk management officer Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) to confirm Sullivan’s reports as Robertson realizes that everything Sullivan and Dale found is true. This would get the attention of the company’s CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) who wants to know what is going on. After Sullivan reveals to Tuld what he found, Tuld decides to do some damage control as he looks for someone to put the blame on while getting his people to find Dale. After Cohen suggests something that would help the firm, Rogers believes that it’s only going to cause more trouble as he later asks his traders to make great sales with those making a 93% reduction in assets will get seven-figure bonuses while telling them what is going on. After the market closes, Rogers sees something that makes him uneasy as he’s forced to make a decision about his future.

The film is about 36 hours in the day of a market collapse that a risk analyst discovers as his bosses and executives try to see how to cut the losses and look for someone to blame. Meanwhile, a floor manager tries to assure his traders about what is to happen as they’re forced to look at something that is very ugly while they try to find the manager who was working on this report. When there’s people that confirms that the report is true and that trouble is brewing, top people try to see how to salvage their money in order to save face. Yet, there are those that is aware that something like this could’ve been prevented and there’s some good people who will be not just losing their jobs but also their reputations.

Characters like Sarah Robertson and Jared Cohen are people who kind of run the whole thing as Robertson is someone who knows more than what is going on. Cohen just wants to believe that nothing will go wrong as is CEO John Tuld who is hoping that something will work out. There’s no villains in a story like this but people who are just trying to keep the market going and just make money yet there are those who fall as the third act is about who to get rid of and who to keep. This would make Rogers uneasy as he doesn’t want to lose anybody as it eventually becomes too much for him.

J.C. Chandor’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of its visual presentation and the way he frames his actors in a scene. Yet, he does manage to create compelling moments that does drive the drama. Even in the meetings that take place as there’s a lot of tension as Chandor has his camera focused on one or more characters to establish what is being discussed. The camera definitely has a sense of claustrophobia that is felt as things are becoming more uncomfortable as the film progresses. Overall, Chandor creates a very engaging and smart drama that explores the world of finances and market collapses.

Cinematographer Frank DeMarco does nice work with the photography to capture the lights of the computers and lights inside the offices at night as well as some of the nighttime exteriors of the city. Editor Pete Deaubreau does terrific work with the editing by creating fast-forwards on some of the film‘s city shots as well as montages for the film‘s fire-sale trading scenes in the third act. Production designer John Paino and set decorator Robert Covelman do brilliant work with the look of the offices and meeting rooms where the characters meet to have their discussions where it looks like a place of immense importance.

Costume designer Caroline Duncan does very good work with the costumes as a lot of it are suits that many of the male characters along with the suit that Sarah Robertson wears. Sound supervisor Damian Volpe does some fine work with the sound to capture the intimacy of the meetings as well as the raucous nature of the city. The film’s music by Nathan Larson is excellent for its chilling, ambient-driven score to play out the drama that unfolds throughout the film.

The casting by Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Tesley is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some small appearances from Mary McDonnell as Sam’s ex-wife Mary and Aasif Mandvi as an executive who works with Robertson and Cohen. Stanley Tucci is wonderful as manager Eric Dale who deals with being fired as well as making a warning to Sullivan about what was about to discover. Demi Moore is excellent as management officer Sarah Robertson who reveals to know more about what is happening as she realizes that everything Sullivan has confirmed is true. Simon Baker is terrific as division head Jared Cohen who tries to deal with Rogers’ feelings as well as the trouble that is happening as he makes a drastic suggestion. Jeremy Irons is great as the CEO John Tuld who is looking for a solution to deal with the matter as he turns to Sullivan and Rogers for what is being faced while being upfront about what he will do.

Penn Badgley is very good as the idealistic Seth Bregman who adores his job as he realizes the impact of the financial crisis will be as he later faces the possibility of something much harsher. Paul Bettany is superb as the more hardened Will Emerson who provides a lot of insight into the world while realizing that what he’s facing is far worse than he realizes. Zachary Quinto is amazing as Peter Sullivan who makes the discovery that would unveil the financial collapse as he comes to terms with the reality of what is happening as well as the fact that things will get worse. Finally, there’s Kevin Spacey in a marvelous performance as floor head Sam Rogers who tries to deal with the crisis while becoming morally troubled by what his superiors are doing as he is forced to do things that he didn’t want to do as it’s one of Spacey’s finest performances.

Margin Call is a unique yet compelling drama from J.C. Chandor that features an incredible ensemble cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Stanley Tucci. While it’s a film that is about a world that not many people know about, it does create a very fascinating study on the world of the financial market and how things can fall apart where people would make drastic decisions that would be questionable. In the end, Margin Call is an extraordinary film from J.C. Chandor.

J.C. Chandor Films: All is Lost - A Most Violent Year - (Trile Frontier) - (Kraven the Hunter) - (The Auteurs #73: J.C. Chandor)

© thevoid99 2012


Chris said...

Glad you found it to be great. Probably was the best ensemble cast of 2011. The ending didn't quite work for me, Bettany's speech on the roof was my favorite scene.

Chip Lary said...

When I watched as many 2011 Oscar nominees as I could between the announcements and the awards ceremony this film was definitely the most pleasant surprise for me. I hadn't even heard of it prior to the announcement and it ended up being in my Top 10 of 2011.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-The ending wasn't that great but it stayed true to all that was happening considering how many screw ups occurred.

@Chip-This film was a real surprise. I wasn't sure about seeing it when it came out. Now, I realize that it was really overlooked by the public at large.