Margin Call ~ (USA, 2011) ~ DVD

When Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), chomping on his Nicorete gum goes in to see Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) after the blood-letting has finished, he finds Rogers weeping silently. Saddened by the downsizing? Not exactly. His dog is dying.

The boardroom and trading floor of an investment bank doesn’t seem the place for much drama, but strangely it is. Ostensibly, this is how “it” all started. The “it” being the financial crisis. This is from the point of view of the players, and doesn’t concern itself all that much with the 99%, to put it in those terms. That could be considered a flaw, but the film seemed intent on showing the mindset  all the way up the food chain in a place such as this. And I think it does a decent enough job in showing how the financial crisis might have begun. It’s only briefly technical, but the script made it clear that not many people who were involved understood the details anyway. The higher up they went the more the “big” picture divorced itself from the blocking and tackling. One of the characters (Peter Sullivan, played by Zachary Quinto) is the analyst who took the baton from his former boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who was the first one layed off. Between the two of them, they put together the numbers. They are startled.

The company is so leveraged that they are faced with stark decisions. The big boss, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) choppers in and has Peter Sullivan tell him what he has found. Tuld tells Sullivan to explain it to him as if he were a child. It turns out that Sullivan’s background was as a rocket scientist (a nice touch). It’s all just numbers he says. And it is. It’s all just numbers to these guys. Rarely are actual lives considered. There are lots of people being layed off at the firm, but it’s hard to feel any empathy for them considering the environment they have been living in. An exception may be Stanley Tucci’s character, who also had a previous life like Sullivan’s. He gets to talking about the bridge he built in his former career as a civil engineer. He waxes poetic about the bridge, the hours it has saved all the commuters, and rattles off the numbers. A good scene for Tucci. Reminds me of a certain “Massachusetts moderate” who styles himself a businessman. Bullshit. Here is a man who never actually built a business in his life, despite his ‘superior business experience’. He bought them. He sold them. He sold them off piece-meal. Never did he have the skills (or the inclination) to actually build a business. There’s a difference between building and tearing down – though they are certainly related. A hostile takeover business is not a business that lends itself to managing a government. Oh. Unless your agenda is a hostile takeover of the government followed by a dismantling.

[/end rant]

The film, I do think, gave me a feel for the “financial crisis”, and the completely disconnected attitude of those who made the tactical errors to get us in this mess – but more importantly, the utter lack of a sense of the implications the crisis had on people’s lives with the decisions made to cut their losses was highlighted. Cut their losses, not ours.

Between Tucci, Spacey, Irons and a small part from Demi Moore, there are faces here you’ll recognize. A few from television as well: Simon Baker I’ve seen on the tube (The Mentalist, not a show I watch), Penn Badgeley (a bunch of tv series I’ve never seen), Mary McDonnell (The Closer)…etc. But for my money, the most interesting character was Paul Bettany’s Will Emerson: edgy and cocky, I think he probably nailed it.

Remember the beginning had Kevin Spacey weeping about his sick dog. The end (after the 24-hour crisis had turned the markets upside down, and started the spiral downward) has Spacey burying his dog in his ex-wife’s yard. A fitting ending to the day. Maybe a little obvious and heavy-handed, but that’s ok. The film was mostly  entertaining from beginning to end. A nice effort from J.C. Chandor in his first feature film. He wrote the script as well, and presumably had some inside knowledge: his father spent 30 years toiling for Merrill Lynch. Did I say toiling?

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