Investigating a fateful 24 hours in 2008 when the financial bubble burst, Margin Call is a Wall Street thriller focused on a particular floor of a prestigious financial institution. As the truth behind years of financial gambling came to light, over 80% of a risk analysis floor are let go from their jobs, most notable of the unfortunate few is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) a man with 19 years experience who is forced to pack up his life in a cardboard box and is escorted from the building. Just as he gets into an elevator, he passes a report on a drive to his young protÃ©gÃ©, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) with the warning be careful.
One of the most interesting and engaging elements of Margin Call is its supreme portrayal of corporate capitalism. Having opened the files and filled in some blanks, young and naÃ¯ve Peter gives the information to his boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), an embittered ˜suit’ who has been smart enough to save some of his exorbitant wages in case of such an emergency. The audience then follows the information up the chain of command through veteran pit boss with a moral streak, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), via Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) who predicted the crash a year before, but is still forced to be the scapegoat and her boss, the snake-like Jared Cohen (Simon Baker). Each of these characters is richly developed in key scenes and part of the exciment is seeing where Peter will be taken next.
Only when it reaches the very top of the company does the CEO get called in to the office at 2.00am along with the rest of the board. John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) is everything you imagine a financial CEO to be, as he casually remarks during the excellent and extremely tense boardroom scene Talk to me as you would a small child or a Labrador, because I can assure you I didn’t get to this position because of my intelligence. This single moment explains everything that you need to know about the sort of people you’re dealing with. These are winners and will do what it takes, rather than what is necessarily prudent, or legal, to win.
As they wax lyrical about the financial world they’re often separated from reality, whether overlooking the New York skyline, or in the back of a car. They question the naivety of the ˜normal’ people for allowing them so much power, while simultaneously worrying about the effects of their actions on them and the world around them. Each character has depth and allows the actors to really express their range. While Irons is the most obviously impressive in terms of intimidation and frame-popping charisma, Quinto, Bettany, Tucci and Spacey all steal individual scenes and leave lasting character creations. Combine this with Margin Call’s cool direction and acerbically testy script by JC Chandor and you’ve got a fascinating character study and what must be the best Wall Street film of all time.