Margin Call Review

After he’s fired from his job at a large investment firm (loosely based on the Lehmann Brothers), Risk Management Executive, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), gives a usb flash drive with an unfinished project to analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) with the warning “be careful.” The film follows the following 24ish hours as Peter finishes the project and realises that it signals the beginning of an crash, as trading will soon exceed the historical volatility levels. In layman’s terms, the company, and the future of Wall Street itself are screwed and the only option is to offload its bad assets.

Comparisons can, and will, be drawn with 1987’s Wall Street. However, this film deserves acclaim all of its own. It’s probably, now hold onto your socks as I throw this wild comment onto the Internets, the best Wall Street film yet. And this is because it focuses on the actions of a few people in a very high position of power once faced with a fight-or-flight situation, rather than heavy-handedly more-0r-less complaining about corporate dickheads in flashy suits. There are lots of flashy suits, though.

The film is weirdly placed in the “thriller” genre. It’s not what I would consider a thriller – it’s a drama. Although that fear of impending doom that’s ever-present could have swayed it towards it being classed as a “thriller”. The pacing is excellent, you barely feel the first hour go by. It’s gritty and lacks the Hollywood frills – these characters are essentially unlikable; they’re greedy and venal. And that’s just their attributes.

Jeremy Irons is fantastic as the soulless patrician. Kevin Spacey is at his best since 1999’s American Beauty (which won him the Best Actor Oscar). It’s not an Oscar-winning performance, but it’s worthy of a nomination. I doubt he’ll get one, however. The film as a whole will probably be overlooked – the best it can hope for is Best Original Screenplay for J.C. Chandor. The script is wordy and full of drama. It could absolutely pass as the lost Aaron Sorkin Wall Street 3 script. It’s full of Wall Street jargon, but it doesn’t feel laboured. And it certainly doesn’t matter if you fully understand what’s being said.

The weakest thing about this film is Penn Badgley. Penn Badgley was good fine in Easy A, he’s grand in his weekly stint in Gossip Girl. But Penn Badgley doesn’t suit a dramatic role of this calibre. Particularly when he’s on screen with Spacey, Irons and Bettany. He comes off as a moany little shit that you want to punch in the face because he’s crying about making a lot of money.

Considering this is director/writer J.C. Chandor’s first feature film, I’m excited to see what’s in store in the future with his talent. Margin Call is a masterclass on how to make a film about Wall Street.

[xrr rating=4/5]

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