Margin Call – Film Review

Can bankers be loveable? While this film by first time writer/director J.C. Chandor doesn’t exactly try to make them lovable it goes a long way to explaining their behaviour and present them as human.  The film is billed as a thriller, but those craving a fast paced adrenalin ride will be disappointed, it is a drama and is the more powerful because of it.

Margin Call starts and ends with the mass sacking of traders on a banking sales floor and is not so loosely based on events at Lehman Brothers in 2008.  We cut to Kevin Spacey, Head of Sales at the bank, in his glass walled corner office crying as former colleagues with boxes of personal items are led from the building by security.  He is crying because his dog is dying.

Following events over a fraught 48 hours the film studies the motivations and limitations of the key players in potentially catastrophic financial collapse.  They jockey for position, look to allocate blame and cover their own arses, speculate as to who will survive the maelstrom that they know is coming and is of their own making and despite the fact that they are people we have been trained to hate we care about what happens to them.

The cast is top draw with Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons providing a strong British contingent, with Bettany deserving particular praise.  Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci giving performances every bit as good as you would expect, Zachary Quinto of Heroes and Simon Baker star of The Mentalist making a comfortable transition from small to large screen and Demi Moore showing she is more than capable of playing a role stripped of glamour, full of character.

Although Margin call is is his first feature length film J.C. Chandor has directed a number of music videos and this show in the style of the film.  It has a muted colour palette, grey suits, pale faces, dark nights, neutral corporate office décor, yet it is never visually boring and the director has an eye for light and shadow.

The film was shot on a tight budget as potential funders wanted this to be a morality tale, good guys and bad guys, the bad guys getting the complacence and the good guys winning out in the end.  J.C. Chandor stuck to his guns and kept every one of the characters complicated, doesn’t artificially punish those who we know went unpunished, refuses to let the viewer off the hook and throws our own culpability back at us.  While watching this may not be comfortable it is compelling.

This could so easily have been a told-you-so film full of whipping boys but it is better than that.  It helps you understand what happened in the sub-prime mortgage collapse and understand the people who made it happen.  Well worth watching.

Margin Call – Cert 15 – On general release from 13th January

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