On iPlayer: Margin Call

You can now watch 2011 financial drama Margin Call on iPlayer – or if you don’t want to watch it, just imagine if The Big Short was made by a proper filmmaker instead of the guy responsible for Anchorman, Anchorman 2 and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

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J.C. Chandor’s first feature is set over one night in a Wall Street investment bank, as the financial crash looms horribly into view. Like Chandor’s follow-up All Is Lostthis is another film about a storm – albeit a metaphorical one. Come to think of it, All Is Lost would actually be a fitting and more memorable name for this movie. Fortunately the directing, writing and acting leave a lasting impression, with performances strong across the board(room).

The talented ensemble includes Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto and Paul Bettany, who should just turn back into The Vision and save the world again. At one point Spacey says he’s worked at the bank for 34 years, which would mean he started when he was about 18. This seems unlikely, unless he started as a cleaner and worked his way up to Head of Trading… but I’m nitpicking. I’m a great fan of Chandor and this is an impressive debut, much smarter, more scathing and better directed than The Big Short.

Like Bankerman, the film is concerned with the bankers themselves and pays little attention to those who’ll suffer most. But this seems like a natural result of the film’s focused play-like structure, condensed into just one night like Glengarry Glen Ross with a similarly brooding mood and sharp screenwriting. If Glengarry Glen Ross is Death of a Salesman for the ’80s, and Death of a Salesman is Death of a Salesman for the ’40sthen Margin Call is Death of a Salesman for the 2010s.

It’s also another tower block movie, like The Negotiator or High Rise – and once again Jeremy Irons is at the top of the tower where he belongs, like Saruman in a suit. And like Cosmopolis, the movie is imbued with a sense of everything coming to an end, as though this is the last night on Earth as we know it… not bad for a film about finance.

Margin Call may lack the visceral power of 99 Homes and the cinematic stylings of Wall Street, but it’s an engaging and economical economics movie. Not since my GCSEs has maths made me so nervous.


5 responses to “On iPlayer: Margin Call

  1. Dan Meier if that is your real name, i disagree with you on this.

    I think this failed as a film much in the way The Big Short failed – I find it difficult to be engaged by the emotive story of the mega-rich stumbling upon a hard time. Unlike the ironic over-Scorsesed Wolf of Wall Street, i genuinely feel this makes attempts to pull at my humble heart strings. I’m sorry, but the scene where the three gents are sat on a helipad and the British one regails us of how “$500k really isnt that much…Got £x hundred thousand on the house, another hundred thou on the parents, 50Gs on the Car…a little for me i only saved $100k a year” ? Talk me through that?

    For me, it doesn’t capture the bigger they are harder they fall drug induced firebomb of finance that was Wolf of Wall Street. Nor is it the back stabbing, money never sleeps hard-nosed ruthlessness of success and failure of Wall Street (which to date, remains one of the few films where I find you can sympathise with a young has-it-all banker). Beyond a few non-descripts (and I think Demi Moore?) wandering out with cardboard boxes, where’s the hurt? the money vacuum that was saw a third of the World’s value lost in a week?

    It’s a pet peeve of mine – the Financial Crash is a remarkable case study of greed and unregulated practice at all levels of financing and the financial services, but this was another movie that failed to capture what it meant for real people hit by it.

    For me, the perfect film about finance should show:

    Young up-start protagonist, a victim of his own ambition (Charlie Sheen, Wolf Street)
    Pure, unadulterated greed [perceived victimless] (Wolf of Wall Street)
    Let the good times role (Big Short, the 10 minutes they spent in Florida)
    The Illusion of money and it’s knock on effects (Wall Street, Teldar PAper scene and Blue Star Airlines breakup scene; Margin Call scenes where money disappeared from he computer screens).
    The Crazy post-crash reality (Big Short empty sales floor and empty homes/families living out of a car [but shown for more than 30 seconds and a bit of Brad Pitt chastising young dickheads for enjoying the plight of others in a casino; Leo’s meltdown at the golfclub).
    New dawn (Charlie Sheen repents on steps to High Court; maybe Shia LeBouffs shitty little sad face in Wall Street 2 when he realises his Green Dream is Gordon Geckos’ nightmare).

    (slow work day, thanks for reading Mini).

    • While I agree that the film fails to show the effects of the crash on real people (which I think I acknowledged in the review), I don’t think the film fails overall as a result.

      I think the desired effect of the line you quoted is to make us feel disdain, not sympathy, for the bankers.

      For me, the movie works as a tense dramatisation of one fateful night and so I forgive its limited scope. It’s a more sincere and intimate affair than The Big Short, which I felt missed the mark. Margin Call succeeded within its margins, if you will.

      Have you seen 99 Homes? That’s a brilliant film about the people actually hurt by the financial crisis.

      Btw should I just subtract the cricket money from the Whose Line tickets?

  2. appreciate the tense nature of it yes – and thinking about it, yes you do sense some of the genuine hard decisions made by Spacey and Spock’s characters. but I didn’t feel enough disdain to balance out the hurt for me.

    For me it’s a difficult pill. The illusion of money (as is corporate finance), made into an illusion as a Hollywood film.

    and yes. good idea re tickets.

    • You are right about Hollywood’s approach to the crash and more generally to corporate finance. Hollywood films will almost never show the true damage of unchecked capitalism because that’s where the money comes from. Corporate capitalism in America is more sacred than Jesus, to the point where you can’t even have an evil businessman in a kids film without Fox News coming down on you like a tonne of Lego. See, now you’ve got me sounding like a crazy person, I hope you’re happy.

  3. Pingback: Money Monster | Screen Goblin·

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