THE financial crisis of 2007-2008 which brought the US economy to its knees has been much publicised. The collapse of Lehman Brothers bank has been well chronicled.
It has inspired great film making in the form of the fantastic docu-drama The Inside Job, as well as quick cash-ins such as Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. But no film has been able to achieve what J.C Chandor on his directorial debut and his ensemble cast achieve in Margin Call.
Chandor is brave enough to push the boundaries but smart enough to ensure the film doesn’t fray and lose direction. Loosely based on the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, you’d be forgiven for asking what else this film can add to the financial Armageddon tale already told and immortalised in the news.
Well with the spectre of a double dip recession still looming and the birth of the Occupy movement, it is still a pertinent issue.
The ensemble cast carry a great deal of muscle and here they all flex that muscle in one way or another. Kevin Spacey plays Sam Rogers, a floor head and go to man, Paul Bettany plays Will Emerson, a trading desk head below Spacey’s Rogers.
The film begins with Eric Dale, head of Risk Management being fired, but before he leaves Dale played by Stanley Tucci hands over a memory stick with something that he was working on to his former underling Peter Sullivan played by Zachary Quinto, with the warning “be careful.”
Intrigued Sullivan works through the evening finding out that the foundations upon which they traded on had been miscalculated and a seismic shift was about to catch up to the market as a whole.
After sharing this information with Emerson, it finds its way up the chain of command to division head Jared Cohen, played with real effervescence by Simon Baker. Complete with a baby blue Hermes tie matching his piercing cold blue eyes, the situation dawns on him and he proposes that the company shift all the toxic assets in a selling frenzy.
When it eventually does reach the top dog, John Tuld played by Jeremy Irons, that decision is set in stone despite Rogers’s reservations. The rest as they say is history.
The great thing about Margin Call is that Chandor straddles the line between cliché and originality. He gives the audience a bearing as to where the character stands but never so as to leave you groaning at the lack of originality.
He also sacrifices character conventions. There are no heroes in Margin Call. After Demi Moore’s character Sarah Robertson ruthlessly fires Dale, she herself ends up being terminated in an equally brutal manner. It’s the Wild West and only the fittest survive.
There is a great scene where Penn Badgeley’s Seth Rogen is sobbing his eyes out on a toilet stall at the prospect of being fired soon, Cohen walks in. Despite the situation, he calmly takes to shaving, knowing that his position is secure, and when Rogen says that he is about to be fired there is an icy cool reaction from Cohen. This scene provides a perfect juxtaposition and highlights the dog eat dog nature of the business.
Along with the ensemble cast Chandor also utilises New York City as another character. He uses it more than just a mere referential point, the city just going by with its daily routine without any thought of the forthcoming events is a character in its own right.
He utilises the soft lens effectively and relies on a similar docu-drama style to that of Paul Greengrass. Usually this can distract from a film but not here as the whole screenplay is so well written that it comes together on screen.
You know the difference between a really good film and a brilliant film. It touches you in some way, at the end of a brilliant film you feel like you’ve been on a roller coaster and don’t want to get off. Margin Call fits into that category.
Here is a director who has a script that is his baby and he obviously cares about and he has a cast that is motivated in delivering the goods. This combination usually only means one end product and that is a great film.