Movie Review: Margin Call

By Stephen Rebello

Writer-director, J.C. Chandor's film reminds us that Wall Street remains as unchecked and fragile as ever.

October 21, 2011 Director: J.C. Chandor MPAA Rating: ® Studio: Before The Door Pictures

It’s no Wall Street nor, thankfully, that movie’s sequel. It’s certainly no Inside Job. Still, Margin Call packs its own brand of power.

To countless Americans, the 2008 stock market crash and economic calamity represents an ongoing catastrophe, a nightmare marked by across the board layoffs, losses of homes, life savings, retirement funds and more. Corporations, their executives and stockholders, meanwhile, thrive as never before. Margin Call, star-packed and written/directed by newcomer J. C. Chandor, makes the intricacies, finagling, the scams and the damage clear, horrifying and deeply personal.

Reeling from a cost-cutting bloodbath that sends packing a huge chunk of the staff of a major brokerage firm, a math hotshot (well played by Zachary Quinto) gets passed potentially explosive data by a senior associate, a sad-eyed, sympathetic and newly-fired risk management expert (Stanley Tucci). It appears that the company is headed for freefall thanks to its fortune being tied up in toxic and trumped-up assets. Quinto runs the numbers and spills the beans to his ambitious, empty suit of a colleague Penn Badgely, then to higher-ups Paul Bettany (slimy, arrogant and superb) and Kevin Spacey (subdued and completely effective). That detonates an all-hands-on-deck situation that ropes-in stone cold, callous top tier executives played by Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Aasif Mandvi and, best of all, the company’s elegant boss, a spidery, spellbinding Jeremy Irons.

Everybody loses—but some more than others. Margin Call is a smart, introspective, very well acted, tightly confined ensemble movie that avoids cheap movie-style grandstanding and makes a splendid calling card for writer-director Chandor. It also serves as a reminder that Wall Street remains as unchecked, fragile and reckless as ever.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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