Monday, December 19, 2011

Margin Call

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, Margin Call is loosely based on the fall of Lehman Brothers, the mortgage bubble busting and the cause of the subprime mortgage crisis. Almost of the movie takes place over a single night as the reality of the situation sinks in on all concerned.

Hours after 80% of his co-workers have been fired, while working on a project begun by his former boss (Stanley Tucci), a young analyst (Zachary Quinto) makes a shocking discovery.

Due to the nature of the mortgage backed securities the firm has been handling recently trading will soon exceed the historical volatility levels used by the firm to calculate risk. In other words, very soon the company's debt will far exceed its assets.

Over the course of an evening the matter is pushed upstairs as a small group must decide whether they allow the company to fail or try to unload the worthless mortgages off on other buyers and firms.

Chandor assembles a first-rate cast which includes Paul BettanyKevin SpaceyJeremy IronsSimon Baker, and Demi Moore. There really isn't a central character per se. Quinto and Bettany carry the early story but Spacey, Baker, Irons, and Moore all have a much larger role once the big boys are called in.

The script does a great job at showcasing the speed and ruthlessness in which Wall Street works without dehumanizing the characters. Overwhelmed by the situation, the firm simply looks out for its own interest no matter what cost their actions will have on those left holding the worthless mortgages when, as the movie so succinctly puts it, the "music stops."

Those unfamiliar with the stock market, including terminology and why Lehman Brothers failed, may feel a little lost early on before the situation is finally explained succinctly in layman's terms to the firm's CEO (Irons). Even if some of the early language when the error is discovered is a bit confusing I'll give credit for Chandor for trusting his audience to stay with him as the film finds a very natural way to explain the crux of the issue to the audience.

Without an ax to grind or a political point to make, the film is an engaging look at a group of people standing on the precipice. It may feel a bit slow to some, and the subplot involving the death of Spacey's dog feels mostly like a poor attempt to unnecessarily further humanize his character, but Margin Call is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at what really happens behind closed doors at a Wall Street firm.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD include deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery, a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film, and audio commentary by Chandor and producer Neal Dodson,

[Lionsgate, Blu-ray $29.99, DVD $19.98]

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