Kevin Spacey in Margin Call, Business and Betrayal in the Hallowed Halls of Finance
Margin Call is a pleasant surprise for audiences otherwise expecting a good vs. evil, black vs. white depiction of the now world-famous events that rocked finances from the United States high above Wall Street to far-reaching corners of the globe.
This story is personal. It is a taut, emotional and extremely engaging look behind the scenes at the lives of the men and women at the top of the crash as they hurtle one by one towards the oncoming abyss. Decisions are made, sometimes at will and other times by force.
First-time feature director, J. C. Chandor is no stranger to the world of finance, having grown up with a father who worked at Merrill Lynch. Chandor’s previous work in commercials, documentaries and short films served him well in this inaugural effort. Expect to see a lot more of this very talented filmmaker.
The film opens on a busy day at an unidentified investment banking firm as the office is invaded by a group of executives who storm through the ranks as they pick out employees and send them to a fish-bowl office to be immediately fired. By the end of the day, 80% of them are gone and we can smell contained panic in the room.
As soon as we hear Will Emerson, played by Paul Bettany, tell two young traders in his department, “Ignore it. Put your head down and go back to work,” we know that this script is going to work on more than one level, for history tells us that it wasn’t just young traders who hid in the sand, it was entire corporations. As the script unfolds, the story is peeled back layer by layer and we see the human toll work its way through the ranks.
Media stereotypes of evil bankers and an unwitting public are challenged by this film that succeeds in creating human multi-faceted characters out of those we might want to believe are true villains. Have they sold their souls for a brass ring that will drag us all under to drown as they collect multi-million dollar bonuses? Or, are some of them just following orders or to avoid being swept away into their own version of financial ruin?
These are flawed characters and it is the linked chain of those flaws that strangles our sense of right and wrenches it into darkness. When this is over we will have a newfound understanding of the weaknesses of the executive suite and a keener eye towards events foreboding our future.
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Perched in a glass office, the hatchet woman tells Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) as she fires him, “These are extraordinary times,” then watches as her colleague hands him a magazine entitled, “Looking Ahead,” with a sailboat on the cover.