Margin Call Review

Margin Call

When is a margin call not a margin call?

When they make a film out of it.

Get it?

Me neither, but the guy in the front row of last night’s première of J.C. Chandor’s debut feature sure as hell did.

At a less than star studded affair in Leicester Square last night, Paul Bettany and the peerless Jeremy Irons shone brightly in shedding a little light on Margin Call.

But if the aim was to de-clutter all the boring jargon and financial nonsense that went with the financial bang of 2008, this film failed to pay any dividends.

Kicking off on the trading floor of some imaginary investment bank where swingeing layoffs are rife, a former manager who’s been looking at some recent projections fears a crash is coming.

While being escorted out of the building by a less than vigilant security guard, he hands a memory stick with his discovery to one of his young protégés, advising him to be careful when looking at it.

Said apprentice, Peter Sullivan, duly obliges and waits for the office floor to empty before opening this secret file.

After a couple of hours with this bonafide rocket scientist, no really, Sullivan realises his ex bosses forecast is mild for the real storm that’s coming.

Having brought his findings to the attention of his superiors, this investment bank must decide how to act.

Do they take a hit on the morally bankrupt practices they’ve been spinning for years at great profit for themselves, or do they sell their souls instead?

“Inspired by true events” according to the poster, Margin Call is the brainchild of JC Chandor who wrote and directs this new ensemble piece; another of those fresh off the seemingly endless production line of modern Hollywood’s moniker challenged auteurs.

While the subject matter is most certainly worthy of a film or ten after all the inequity the banking world’s corrupt fat cats leveraged on to the public, Margin Call doesn’t do enough to illuminate just how this happened.

I like to think of myself as an articulate fellow, but having sat through a two hour film based upon 2008’s financial meltdown, I still don’t know what actually happened.

Perhaps that’s my fault though, as I simply cannot engage with this kind of material, even though I know I should.

I mean my brother has worked at Lloyds TSB for at least the last five years, and I must have heard him say what it is that he does in conversation at least a dozen times or so.

Hell, I probably asked on half of these occasions.

But if you asked me what it is he does for a living, I simply wouldn’t be able to tell you.

I’m pretty sure it’s got something to do with shares, but as soon as the inner machinations of the financial world are said out loud, I mentally switch off.

And the same thing happened to me with Margin Call last night.

In fact, I found the two girl’s in front of me prowling around for complimentary popcorn far more entertaining.

So, in spite of the impressive array of acting talent assembled, Margin Call’s material is still too dry and stuffy to make you care about what’s going on.

Maybe this is why these bankers gambled so much of other people’s money on increasingly dodgy financial models in the first place?

It was the only way to inject a little excitement into their monotonous routine.

The real issue is why so many young, intelligent and gifted university graduates, like Zachary Quinto’s character Sullivan, choose to chase money over their dreams?

But I guess you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Jonathan Campbell

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January 2012
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