Sundance Review: Margin Call

Wednesday, January 26 by

Margin Call explains how the economic crisis happened. Basically, one company messed up their formula, so they sold all their asset knowing the value would quickly decline and the buyers would be left with worthless investments. That’s why I always say don’t invest. You don’t actually get to keep the money, you just have to buy something else until it’s over.

In the beginning, a bunch of suits come int the office of an unnamed company and start firing people. That includes Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who’s the risk management analyst for the company. Yeah, you don’t need that guy. On his way out, he gives a report he’s working on to young hotshot Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto).

Sullivan finishes the report and realizes their whole program is going to lose more than the entire value of their company. He brings it to his boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), up to Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) and ultimately to Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Jared Cohen (Simon Baker). Then head honcho John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) comes in and says, “That’s it. Just dump it all.”

Each step explains a little more of the program so the audience can follow in baby steps. Both Sam and Jared ask for explanations in plain English, because they can’t understand financial talk. That’s convenient for us, but it also leads to more eloquent dialogue. There are terms like layered investments and leveraging mortgages, but Tuld’s music metaphor brings it home.

It’s not really a detailing of the factors in the economic crisis. It’s more of a drama about the people dealing with it. Sam’s dog has a tumor, so we feel for him. Sullivan has the skills to confirm Dale’s report because he is a former rocket scientist. He says it’s still numbers, just more money.

Once they decide what to do, they all deal with it differently. Tuld is relaxed and full of smiles. Even when he throws Sarah under the bus, he’s calm in that Jeremy Irons way. He advises her not to bring up the fact that she warned him earlier, and he’d just appreciate it if she didn’t fight. Young newbies worry about their prospects and the veterans cover their asses.

First time director J.C. Chandor keeps the visuals interesting. When in the office, you’ll see Sullivan writing on paper or bring in plates of eggs when it approaches the morning. They’ll take break on the roof, and send some underlings off to try to find Dale again.

I think Emerson expresses the real problem. He touts those clichés about how people want to live in houses they can’t afford, so basically he just feeds it. I say let’s rise up against these corrupt tycoons. Let’s minimize so they won’t have the power to play with our money anymore.