Margin Call | Film review
Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany don’t like the numbers.
Not exactly the reckoning the architects of the financial crisis deserve, Margin Call observes the 2008 collapse from the confines of an unnamed investment bank. A former rocket scientist (Zachary Quinto), building off the work of a laid-off mentor (Stanley Tucci), has just worked out a formula that proves the company’s entire portfolio is about to drown in toxic sludge. Have you seen these numbers?!? he asks his superiors. Margin Call unfolds over the course of a long, tense night as the firm’s movers and shakers debate how to sell off worthless assets. Yes, they saw it coming, but they ignored the warnings. In a particularly absurd bit of wish fulfillment, screenwriter and first-time feature director J.C. Chandor elects to have his high rollers admit their nonproductivity to society.
The movie’s message is at odds with its drama. Chandor wants to vilify these characters, but nevertheless has us root for them as they figure out the evening’s game plan. Like this year’s HBO drama Too Big to Fail, the film satisfies only if you can forget about real life and think of it as a heated drama about well-dressed people shouting. On those terms, Margin Call delivers suspense aplenty. As the last man on the floor with scruples, Kevin Spacey projects more genuine vulnerability than he’s shown in years, and Irons, giving a ridiculous performance as the company’s leathery CEO, even makes the film something like fun. Still, your time might be better spent occupying Wall Street.