Described by the New Yorker as “easily the best movie about Wall Street ever made”, Margin Call was written and directed by J.C. Chandor and released here earlier this year. The film, based in part on the events in 2007-08 at Lehman Brothers in New York, takes place in a thirty-six hour period at one of New York’s largest investment banks.
A round of redundancies are happening at a bank and risk management employees Seth (Penn Badgeley) and Peter (Zachary Quinto) watch their boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) get laid off. Before getting into the lift, Eric passes Peter a USB stick which contains a file he’s been working on but is now unable to finish. Peter, who holds a Ph.D. in Physics, works on the file that night and completes the project, which shows that volatility in the market is threatening the securities that have been the mainstay of the company’s recent profits. He alerts his boss, who in turn alerts his boss, all the way up the chain of command until John Tuld (whose name is a reference to Richard Fuld and is played with gusto by Jeremy Irons), CEO of the bank, swoops in to have an emergency meeting in the small hours of the morning. The repercussions of his decision to save the bank are horrific not just for its employees but for the stock market and the economy (as most Americans can now testify to).
J.C. Chandor was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and certainly Margin Call’s great strength is here. The sharp dialogue is laden with financial jargon whilst never sacrificing clarity and the pacing is that of a perfect thriller. The ensemble cast are excellent, but for me the stand out performance is that of Kevin Spacey. Usually the sneering sarcastic antihero, this time Spacey plays the most gentle and human character in the film; the jaded soldier who is battle weary, who can see how the fallout from this one night will affect people for decades but is powerless to stop it.