In J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, the writer-director offers up a new take on the 2008 financial crisis. Most notably, he unveils no discernable hero and no outright villain, which is alarming if you consider our current social climate. So, with an apparent dearth of characters to root for, what are we left with? Well, a lot, actually.
Margin Call has the feel of a stage play, albeit one with a cast of first rate movie stars. The musings and machinations of chief executive John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), and the mental teeter tottering of old hand trader Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) alone are worth scheduling time to digest.
The film sets its stopwatch 24 hours before the inevitable derailing of a fictional investment bank. We meet Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a fresh victim of the bank’s significant downsizing effort. As the canary in the coal mine, Dale, the dignified risk manager, was one of the only employees actually keeping tabs on the roulette game his bank was playing when it assumed ownership of essentially worthless mortgage-backed assets.
Upon departure, Dale sets into motion the discovery by one of his underlings, a young employee actually trained as a rocket scientist, named Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), that the party is indeed over. When the alarm bells finally reach Tuld, a rare 3 a.m. board meeting is called to decide the course of action. In the confines of the bank’s reflective glass walls, in the depths of the night, the mood of unease is only softened by talk of plush pay packages.
As a whole, these characters – though lacking any ounce of foresight – are humanized in their separate ways. Spacey’s character is coloured with some of the more universally relatable emotional tones. Tucci’s character laments a previous career where he built something with power to change people’s lives in a positive way. While Irons’ character performs in a manner that is expected of any CEO, doing what is considered favourable to shareholders.
And while a team of front line brokers unload at breakneck speeds what was, at that point identified as the: “greatest pile of odiferous excrement in the history of capitalism,” while mind-numbingly frustrating, isn’t breaking the law.
The excrement-hitting-the-fan moment never unfurls on screen, but it’s no stretch of the imagination to get a pulse on what happens next.