The time is now. Things are rough and looking to get even rougher. A nameless investment bank is making cuts and the department taking the largest blow is the perhaps the most important: risk management. Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is onto something, something big. But he’s getting his walking papers. As he’s being escorted out of the building, he hands this information off to Peter Sullivan (Syler… er….Spock, I mean Zachary Quinto). Sullivan takes a look at the information and puts it all together. It’s a projection and not a good one. The company, heavily invested in a real estate market in the midst of a collapse, will soon be severely over leveraged.
Thus begins Margin Call, the year’s best action film. There are no guns or explosions, nary a car chase in sight. With the exception of a few rooftop smoke breaks, the film is contained within the offices of the bank. The fireworks lie in the pace of film and the Mametesque dialogue delivered like bullets by a large and capable cast.
As the projection makes its ascension up the ranks of the company, the office politics shift into high gear. Fingers are pointed, deals are brokered and everyone looks around wondering how the hell it all got so bad. Everyone is complicit and by the end of the day no one is left unscathed. By the time the opening bell sounds the following day, plans are set in motion, ethics are compromised and the bank, while still standing, is but a shell of it’s former self.
The film is chalk full of great performances most notably by Jeremy Irons, as the top rung of the ladder and Kevin Spacey, as a long time employee forced to carry out the bank’s plan to rid themselves of their toxic assets. Both actor’s operate in survivor mode, one desperately hanging onto his last shreds of dignity and the other doing whatever it takes to stay alive. These are desperate men leading desperate lives. A cast of better dressed Willy Loman’s hopelessly clinging to the prospect of another giant bonus.
While Margin Call operates at a break neck pace and the financial crisis is front and center, the devil is in the details. The problems of our financial system are malignant and contagious. The recklessness has trickled down to everyone. Brokers making millions of dollars a year are living hand to mouth, over extended or tapped out. Brilliant rocket scientists would rather crunch numbers for an investment bank because the pay is so much better. The film taps into the dark side of human nature and asks the audience how we would act if we were in the same situation. In the film Margin Call, the answer is simple: everyone has a price.