207 of 222 people found the following review helpful
Having been the victim of corporate downsizing more than once, I was immediately engaged with this propulsive 2011 corporate drama from the beginning as Stanley Tucci's character, a seasoned risk management executive named Eric Dale, is told in a coldly indifferent manner that he is being laid off after 19 years with the same unnamed Wall Street firm. It's a piercing yet dramatically economical scene that perfectly summarizes how bloodless the corporate world can be, and in first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor's effort set on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, it is very cold indeed with 80% of the trading floor being let go. As Dale is escorted out of the building, he hands a flash drive to his prodigious assistant Peter Sullivan and tells him to take a look at it and "Be careful."
Once Sullivan analyzes the data, he realizes the universal gravity of Dale's warning - that the firm is so over-committed to underwater mortgage-backed securities that the total potential loss exceeds the firm's total market capitalization value. In other words, the projected scenario means the firm will soon owe a lot more than it's worth, and the market will be on the verge of an apocalyptic meltdown. What happens after this discovery is a series of sharply intense clandestine confrontations with each level of higher-ups recognizing the ramifications of the inevitable disaster, each one far more nuanced in character than we are used to seeing in films from Oliver Stone about greed and immorality. Blessedly, Chandor doesn't stoop to the customary stereotypes in this corporate cage match, but what he does manage is capture the moral compass underneath each player by way of a cast that really delivers the goods with powerfully implosive performances.
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) is initially at the center of the plot as Sullivan and performs well enough in the constraining, semi-heroic role, but the veterans really stand out here beginning with Kevin Spacey, who effectively plays against type as Sam Rogers, a genuine company man, the seen-it-all head of the trading team who rallies what's left of the trading floor with corporate brio but then faces his own cross to bear struggling to commandeer a fire sale of worthless assets dumped on unsuspecting clients. The other standout is Jeremy Irons, who masterfully resuscitates the cool cunning of his Claus von Bulow from Reversal of Fortune as the acerbically survivalist CEO John Tuld. He handily controls the boardroom scene with cutting humor and hostile precision. One of the film's more pleasant surprises is Demi Moore in cool, brisk form as Sarah Robertson, the top risk officer and lone female executive who knows her career is at stake with the discovery of this folly. Tucci is excellent in his smallish role as Dale and gets to show off his resigned character's engineering aptitude with a brief monologue about building a bridge.
Comparatively less impressive but playing their more predictable roles fitfully are Penn Badgley as Sullivan's younger, overtly money-obsessed colleague Seth Bregman; Paul Bettany as Dale's nihilistic, snake-oil salesman of a boss, Will Emerson; and Simon Baker as the most morally despicable executive of the bunch, Jared Cohen. Mary McDonnell has a brief and frankly unnecessary scene as Rogers' ex-wife, and I didn't even recognize the usually hilarious Broadway personality Susan Blackwell as the hatchet woman in the opening scene. There are a few flaws with Chandor's observant screenplay, for example, the overly analogous scenes of Rogers dealing with his dying dog and a rooftop scene that plays up Emerson's nihilistic nature too predictably. In addition, some scenes play either too murkily or too clinically to achieve the precise dramatic effect they should. I think the absence of a musical score also contributes to the sterility of the proceedings. However, as a first-time filmmaker, Chandor more than impresses with his deft handling of such a zeitgeist moment with the Occupy Wall Street protests gaining understandable momentum right now.
116 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2011
Up-front warning: there are no exploding cars, steamy sex scenes or "You can't handle the truth!" catch-phrases in this remarkable movie. Don't get me wrong, I like that type of movie, but this is something different. It's a drama, not a melodrama. It's a reality show about actual reality, which unlike most reality shows, usually moves along in an orderly fashion.
If you've never been a manager in a serious company, it might not appeal to you. As an ex-software company exec, I can say it felt real to me. I found the story exciting, because I could relate to the characters and their understated pain. Many things are shown, rather than stated. For example, they work all night long in their suits, but no one ever talks about going home, or the hours, etc. If you've been in a management crisis and experienced a long hellish night, you'll feel this movie in your bones.
The best part was the placement of the viewer in the shoes of the company execs. Imagine your place of work for 20 or 30 years going down in flames around you. If you are a teacher, imagine the school is going to close at the end of the week forever if you make the wrong choice tonight. Every kid in your school will never be educated if you fail. The only way to possibly save yourself and your students is to lie your ass off. That is not a fun place to be, and that's the tension behind the film.
On a final note, I didn't sense an overt political viewpoint from the filmmakers. I didn't feel this was a hit-piece on Wall Street or anyone else. It was dramatized and probably shrunken down in time-scale, but quite believable. I found that refreshing.
111 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2011
Having been a wall streeter for most of my professional life I can say that this film gets it right it gets right the firing, it gets right the way in which people are so disconnected, so self serving, it gets the way many young misguided college graduates think of wall street. I started working in the 1990s on wall street at a time when Risk Management meant something and at a time when firms like JP Morgan out of 23 wall was leading risk management with risk metrics and most of us coming out of great Universities with technical degrees were welcomed, albeit heralded as the saviors of the new age of finance. Sadly we believed it and so did the rest of the world including key people in the administration "Summers" defended our new financial engineering products so much so that even in light of the near collapse of LTCM they said that we had it right. Why do we believe that we can dilute ourselves? Mass delusion I say. And I say it again we must be mass deluded. As an insider working in Private Equity who never lost his job after the financial crisis I have to say three things. One that the movie I just saw is very accurate narrating what did happen,as to which firm it was portrayed in the film? well that I wont say, not because I cant say but because it isnt for me to say but what I can say is that it isnt the obvious one it is not Lehman. Second is that the movie reflects on something that it is amiss among our society which is the lack of what we call Humanity and common sense. Third is that I totally understand why people feel the way they do about us wall streeters, we have not lived up to the expectations or rather, we have. Lastly I can say that we all have to live up to a higher standard one where we think of the better choices that we have to make and i hope that this film gets people to thing about what those choices are. No one wants to go home after a long career or a short one feeling that they have just sold their soul or realize that they did a long time ago. Finance and Econ are important parts or our society The management of limited resources is a key function for our leaders to help us perform and us too. When doing so, we should not over rely on esoteric financially engineered products we should challenge those who structure them to create products that truly benefit us in the long term, and in order to do so we need to think Long term, just as men like Steve Jobs did when he thought about innovation beyond him, hence the title of this review, Long Term Capital Management LLC. Its margin call time....
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2012
A lot of the negative reviews seem to be from people who expected this to be a documentary. It does not claim to be that. It is based on the Lehman Brothers collapse but does not attempt to analyze it or even explain it in much detail. In fact, it only covers about 36 hours of the meltdown. This film is a work of dramatic fiction that follows a group of people who are facing the realization that their current prosperity is based on a house of cards and is about to undergo a "correction" that will fundamentally change their lives. And the change will not come in weeks or months, but that very day.
The point of the film is watching that group of people deal with the crisis on corporate and personal levels; often having to make some very unsavory choices. The film's high quality comes from the script, which moves forward inexorably as the scope of the disaster becomes clear, and the fine group of actors, who deliver some excellent performances. I would say there is only one false note in it: Paul Bettany teetering on edge; but I still consider his to be one of the standout performances.
Some reviewers complain that the film is boring. I have always been somewhat fascinated by Wall Street, so I cannot evaluate that claim. When I saw it on pay-per-view I thought it was riveting. In fact, when it was over I restarted it and watched it again. But there is very little technical detail in the movie. I think even people whose eyes glaze over at any mention of financial instruments will find this movie rewarding.
In short, if you are looking for a documentary, you will be disapponted. Likewise, if you are looking for car chases, fist-fights, or moralizing feel-good endings, this will not be your cup of tea. If you like good scripts and fine ensemble acting, check it out.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2011
I found this movie's finely crafted character studies riveting. All the characters found personal reasons to collectively participate in the destruction of the American economy for years to come. Although the action covers a single day, the movie makes it clear the collective blindness to anything but personal gain covered years.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2011
The only guy who knows that the company is screwed just got laid off. This begins a compelling drama based somewhat on the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. To be clear, this is not a thriller and it's not a fictionalized retelling of the Lehman collapse. It's a conventional drama. And most of the story takes place in a single building.
The film dramatizes what the executives did in the 24 hours after they realized they were sitting on billions in worthless assets. "So, what you're telling me is that the music is about to stop and we're gonna be left holding the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism." That's the big cheese played by Jeremy Irons. He concocts a scheme to dump the assets on unsuspecting buyers within a single business day. His underling opposes the idea. Kevin Spacey plays the underling and he's pretty awesome.
People who liked "Glengarry Glen Ross", which was a film based on strong performances and sharp dialogue might like this film. Otherwise, the film might just look like a bunch of talking heads. The movie examines the behavior of people in a crisis and their motivations. The most memorable lines comes from Jeremy Irons: "It's just money. It's made up. Just pieces of paper with pictures on it, so we don't have to kill each other to get something to eat." I didn't like the way the movie ended. But I guess it's true to life that way.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Margin Call' is first time writer/director J.C. Chandor's distillation of the 2008 financial meltdown. Chandor creates a compilation firm based on Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms that tanked during the Wall Street economic crisis. The action is compressed down to one evening and a following morning despite the fact that the actual meltdown took place over a few months. The characters are entirely fictional and I heard that Chandor, during a talk at the new Lincoln Center film center, created the characters without consulting anyone specifically on Wall Street but then had some friends who were in the financial industry, look the script over once it had been completed.
The plot is rather simple. Things come to head at Chandor's fictional firm, when seasoned risk management executive Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is fired after another company downsizing. As he's being escorted from the building, he hands his subordinate, former physics ace, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a flash drive containing a snapshot of the seemingly deteriorating financial situation at the firm (one wonders why 'security' allowed him to hand the flash drive over to Sullivan). A series of executives then are informed of the crisis, culminating in the arrival of the big boss, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) who decides to sell off most of the company's assets resulting in big profits for the few executives and employees left at the firm but curtains for the rest of the underlings as well as a nasty kick in the pants to the overall US economy.
Frankly, Chandor's attempt to dramatize the economic crisis is admirable but the subject matter doesn't really lend itself to palpable drama. Part of the problem is that many people (including myself) don't really understand how the financial system works. Chandor goes to great lengths to provide a simplified explanation for the financial collapse, but to be honest I still don't understand what it's all about, despite all of Chandor's attempts at transparency.
Without a tension-filled plot, Chandor must fall back on strong characterizations of the principal players. Jeremy Irons really saves the day as CEO Tuld. Irons is the only actor amongst the solid cast, to turn his amoral financial executive into a flesh and blood human being. He also happens to have the best lines of dialogue in the script. Irons serves up a superb speech at the film's climax, detailing his cynical philosophy that financial downturns always occur in history and are unavoidable.
The rest of the cast do their best in roles that are sorely underdeveloped. Quinto neatly conveys the integrity of a former "rocket scientist" who admits taking a job on Wall Street, simply "for the money". But Kevin Spacey struggles in his role as Sam, the ethical company man who refuses to quit because he also "needs the money". Chandor awkwardly attempts to humanize Spacey's Sam in the final scene, where the executive attempts to bury his recently deceased dog, under his ex-wife's lawn. The problem is that we don't find out enough about Sam to care about him. The same goes Paul Bettany as Will, whose main claim to fame is that he hangs out at strip clubs. Simon Baker does his best as the cold as steel executive Jared but he too lacks a back story. Ditto for Demi Moore's Sarah Robertson, who's thrown under the bus by CEO Fuld right before the big sell-off. Stanley Tucci ends up with the sorry sad sack role as the canned supervisor, who also throws principles to the wind by returning to the company one last time, after being threatened with retaliation by the sinking firm.
Mr. Chandor must be commended for not only bringing the story of the the great 2008 financial collapse to the small screen but ensuring there were no happy endings. As in real life, the traders and executives broke no rules in this unregulated industry and hence were only guilty of ethical lapses, which of course were not punishable in a criminal court of law.
There are those who may be satisfied with Chandor's sketchy and generic take on the financial collapse that precipitated the current financial downturn, but there are many more books and documentaries that will provide a more thoughtful and detailed reckoning of what really went on Wall Street during those heady times. If however, you wish to start with the basics, 'Margin Call' should be your baby.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2012
One of the great themes of modern literature and film is the banality of evil. The casual, gradual descent of ordinary workaday life into increasingly unethical, socially destructive behavior, often without our being aware of it. So that when we finally realize it, it's too late; we're trapped. The small, routine, mundane lies we tell each other in the course of our jobs, to get ahead in business, to get the edge; to succeed, to win, can eventually add up to enormous consequences, as they do here. In an ethically bankrupt system, fudging the truth can seem necessary, because not to might put one at a disadvantage. And so deceit becomes invisible, accepted, habitual. Everybody does it because everybody does it. And before we know it, we're the bad guys.
Like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, MARGIN CALL is a brilliant, unsettling look at the modern business environment, where the pressure to succeed damages not just the social fabric, but ourselves as well. Lying to each other is bad enough, but lying to ourselves is worse. In a system that rewards ruthlessness and punishes integrity, sociopaths rise to the top.
There are no guns in this movie, no car explosions, no chase scenes, no digital FX, but MARGIN CALL is as dark, brutal and white-knuckle a portrait of evil as you're ever likely to see. The increasing sense of impending disaster is palpable, especially since you know where it's all headed. The characters are complex, finely-drawn and very human. And though no one is redeemed, they seem strangely sympathetic since we identify with (and pity) them, like hapless rats lost in a maze. As Jeremy Irons' character puts it, "We can't help ourselves." In the end, all are caught in their own traps, selling each other down the river because, as Kevin Spacey's character says, "I just need the money."
But despite its grim subject, MARGIN CALL is too gripping to be depressing. And watching villains rationalize and justify themselves is always fascinating. It holds up a disturbing mirror to capitalism, so naturally some people won't like it. But it's a riveting, nuanced morality tale, told largely between the lines, and for those who grasp the larger implications, it is far more chilling than any action/thriller or horror movie.
These Wall Street vampires are real.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2011
I cannot believe the reviewers who gave this sharp, crisp film one star saw the same movie I did! It kept my attention from beginning to end. And, contrary to comments that the film has 'only three stars,' it has a wide array of acting talent. All excellent.
Maybe I loved the film because I live in NYC and have numerous friends on Wall Street. In the era of Bernie Madoff ANYTHING is possible down there!
I have one bone to pick with the film and that is at the beginning when a fired executive (Stanley Tucci) is being escorted from his office by a guard to the lobby but finds time to hand a young trader (Zachary Quinto)something from his computer (in full view of the guard). This would never, ever happen! The guard would have intercepted it and reported this to the management. However, in the movie this is allowed to happen. Without this there would be no film!
By the end of the work day numerous traders (big and small) have been fired. Those who remain go out after work to celebrate their good fortune. Quinto stays behind and works for hours on the project Tucci had been delving into. He finishes the project and is stunned by what he finds. He calls his friend Penn Badgley at the bar and asks that he and their superior, Paul Bettany, return to the office. It is now after Midnight.
Kevin Spacey who looks more and more like Henry Kissinger these days plays their boss. Although playing his usual Mr. Grumpy role, the fact his beloved dog is dying softens his image a great deal. At least to the audience. A rather snarky Simon Baker plays a cold, uncaring, icewater-in-his-veins executive to a T. Everyone around him is falling by the wayside and those left are quaking in their boots worrying if they will be next. But not Mr. Cohen (Simon Baker). He never loses his cool. Ever.
Long story short, what Quinto discovers sends shock-waves through the top brass. The top man, Jeremy Irons, flies in by helicopter to address the newly found info personally. Demi Moore has a small part as a token female executive. A role any actress of a certain age could have played.
I won't reveal any more information about the story line because it will spoil the film for you. Margin Call is a very snappy film. The photography is wonderful. Manhattan is always ready for her close-up and looks beautiful at night from the executive's office windows. After the sad, gray days after 9-11 she lost a bit of her shine. However, she now has her moxy back and twinkles like the star she is.
In one scene, Paul Bettany has to drive from Manhattan to Brooklyn to find Tucci. He remarks to his passenger, Badgley, "I hate Brooklyn!" I chuckled because in reality Mr. Bettany, his wife and children live happily in Brooklyn and they love it. It may even be his townhouse they use in the scene.
The cast was excellent. The film, one hour and 47 minutes, went by quickly. No frame was wasted. For those young men and women out there who have Wall Street stars in their eyes, consider this film a warning of what life on Wall Street is really like. Regardless of how smart you think you are or how valuable you are to your firm, there is always someone younger, smarter and quicker breathing down your neck. Keep that year-end bonus money, kids. You may need it down the road when the grits hits the fan (like it did in Margin Call)and you're in the Unemployment Line!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
MARGIN CALL is a 24 hour distillation of an example of the economic meltdown this country and the world has been and is currently experiencing. Though the film is very well crafted and is populated with some of our finest actors it is an exceptionally disturbing look at greed and all its permutations. The only aspect of the film that makes it less devastating to watch is the manner in which the story is told - through the eyes of the people involved in the crisis and how it affects them as well as those they have financially and morally abused and destroyed.
The film opens with the Investment Banking downsizing firing of Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a veteran of 19 years with the firm who is on the brink of making a shattering discovery. His boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) simply tells him he is through and has him escorted out of the building, cutting off all ties with the firm: Eric passes a file to one of his young co- workers, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) as he is exiting the building via the elevator stating 'Be Careful'. During the day many others are let go and informed of their separation packages. Tension builds as Peter downloads the information form Eric and discovers that the firm is on th brink of destruction form greedy overselling to clients: collapse seems imminent. It is now night and Peter calls his co-worker Seth (Penn Badgley) back to the office along with another boos Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and as the situation terrifies them all they inform the Human Resources people Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) who realize the gravity of the situation and ask the owner of the firm John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) to come to the firm in the middle of the night to inform him of the calamity. The only choice seems to be to sell out everything and close the company, an act that would further betray the clients of the firm and causes considerable conflict among the firm's staff. Everyone seems to trust Sam and will follow his advice as to go through with the questionable sell junk bonds to loyal clients in order to not collapse. Each of the people involved in the action has a personal fear, and Sam is particularly vulnerable because he has been informed his beloved dog is dying from a tumor (one of the few suggestions that these people may have a vulnerable aspect to their psyches. How the announcement is made and the actions taken as the sun comes up on this night of terror gives the audience a first hand look of that hideous moment in 2008 when the markets failed, injuring millions of people's lives.
JC Chandor wrote and directed this film and offers an impressive debut - and a lot of courage bringing a film with this topic to the screens at this point in time. Many viewers may find that there is too little character development in this script, but consider the time frame of the film - less than 24 hours in one of the worst crises of this country - and realize that this may be a statement about the corporate personality: no matter the gravity of the result of crashing they think basically about their job stability. Every one in the cast is memorable, right up to the end of the film when we finally meet Mary McDonnell as Sam's ex-wife questioning Sam's digging a grave for his dog in his previous home's yard. It is a moment of agony that adds a smidgen of idea that the characters involved so indeed have souls.
This is a very disturbing film about a very disturbing subject, made all the more disturbing by the fact that it forces us to look at an act the affected the lives of all of us. As Eric says on the elevator leaving the building, 'Be careful.' Grady Harp, October 11