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Showing 1-10 of 754 reviews(4 star). Show all reviews
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.
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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.
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I really liked MARGIN CALL (dir. J. C. Chandor), but I have to admit I don't really understand it. The plot revolves around a young risk analyst (Zachary Quinto) who discovers that his investment banking firm has misinterpreted its own equations and is on the verge of total collapse. What ensues is a night of tension-filled meetings staffed by company higher-ups (Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore) and eventually the CEO (Jeremy Irons). As Irons explains it, they have three choices: 1) be first, 2) be smarter, or 3) cheat. He rules out cheating, says he can't count on being smarter than anyone else, which leaves him with being first. So the plan is to dump billions of dollars of unsecured junk on an unsuspecting market, which will save the firm even as it plunges all of Wall Street into chaos.

As someone with no expertise in either economics or investment banking, I found myself struggling to understand exactly what was going down at MBS, the fictionalized Lehman-style investment house portrayed in the film. Several characters try several times to explain it, but not very effectively. At one point Jeremy Irons asks Spacey and Quinto to "explain it as if you're speaking to a child," which gave me hope. But phrases like "historic volatility levels" get in the way of making any of this understandable. I get the overall picture - MBS (like Lehman) was making paper trades backed by worthless mortgages (among other low-rated vehicles) which they were playing off against each other like the proverbial house of cards. When Quinto discovers the fatal flaw in their statistics, we know it will all come crashing down. The question is whether MBS will put its own survival above that of its customers (and the American people).

MARGIN CALL is a thrilling film, although it admittedly takes a bit of concentration to keep up with what's going on. The performances (Irons, Spacey, and Quinto especially) are exceptional, and I have no doubt the film accurately reflects the mood of firms like Lehman that played a major role in the collapse of our economy in 2008. But this is not a subject matter that easily translates to story - as such, I never found myself really connecting with any of these characters. One moment - when Spacey embraces his dying dog at the vet's office - stands out as a glimpse of humanity in what is a very cold and merciless world. I liked that. It helped me relate to Spacey's character. However, ultimately Spacey joins the others in a willingness to sell out humanity for cold, hard cash. The world of MBS (like Wall Street in the "real world") is totally fixated on money - making it, holding onto it, and turning it into more money.

There's one nice moment when two characters look out at the people on the streets of Manhattan and wish they could be as innocent of the horror that's about to be unleashed by MBS (and other Wall Street firms). But Paul Bettany says it best: "People wanna live like this in their cars and big [******] houses they can't even pay for. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is `cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really [*******] fair really [*******] quickly and nobody actually wants that." This is the heart of MARGIN CALL. We blame the 2008 crash on greedy Wall Street bankers and financiers, but they're only a reflection of the rest of us who want what we can't afford.

MARGIN CALL is a good film, even if I don't understand it as well as I'd like. It's also a film that will make you think about the world we live in. I do recommend it.
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on June 20, 2012
Think "Glengarry Glen Ross" scaled up and toned down. Kevin Spacey is in both films, of course. Paul Bettany, as the hotshot yet dissatisfied trading manager, looks like a young, twitchy Ed Harris. Simon Baker, though not nearly as loud, is more than reminiscent of Alec Baldwin's character Blake. Could just be my imagination though, as could this: Stanley Tucci, playing the sacked quant who first spots the financial blowup coming, closely resembles Nassim Nicholas Taleb, of Black Swan fame, who also predicted the 2008 crash. Director and screenwriter J. C. Chandor was very clever to put these allusions into the film, if indeed he did.

The superb ensemble acting is the main draw here. Jeremy Irons fully redeems the cliched Slimey Limey villain role he's given. Kevin Spacey is great as the seen-it-all veteran who discovers that he has not in fact ever seen anything like the looming catastrophe he must now manage. Penn Badgley and Zachary Quinto do a fine job as the newbies who suddenly find themselves in deep water, Quinto to be promoted and Badgley to be canned. I've seen Demi Moore in so many bombs, that it's very good to see her excel in a movie of substance here. There is much peering into monitors, much side-eyeing around conference tables, many expressions of dawning incredulity--so much so that one YouTube remix has a scene with the dialog removed, only the reaction shots remaining. Think what you will about the actual events depicted here, lovers of fine acting won't go wrong with this.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 7, 2016
“Margin Call” is a financial drama from 2011 that actually does a very good job of explaining the basics of the financial meltdown of 2008, as seen through the eyes of a fictional Wall Street investment bank.

“Margin Call” features an impressive cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, and Simon Baker. It’s directed and written by J.C. Chandor, who was formerly a Wall Street investment banker. This probably accounts for much of the realism of the film.

As the movie opens, a massive layoff is underway at an unnamed fictional Wall Street investment bank. One casualty of the downsizing is Eric Dale (Tucci), one of the company’s senior risk managers. His termination is so abrupt that he’s not even permitted to pass on information about a project he’s working, a project he thinks could be critical to the company’s financial stability.

As he’s being escorted from the building, he hands a thumb drive with the project data on it to Peter Sullivan (Quinto), one of his risk analysts, telling him to look at it but “be careful.” Sullivan does this, and soon discovers that the company is so heavily leveraged by its investments in sub-prime mortgages that the amount of debt from the accounts on their floor alone exceeds the value of the entire company.

Sullivan naturally reports this to his superiors, Will Emerson (Bettany) and Sam Rogers (Spacey). Thus begins a chain reaction of decisions by the company’s “higher-ups” that eventually lead to the collapse of the financial markets, and ultimately the worldwide “Great Recession…”

I’ve watched “Margin Call” a few times now, and never fail to be impressed by its high production values, the superbly realistic acting from a wonderful ensemble cast, and a taut, well thought-out screenplay. I like the way the writers explain the beginnings of the financial crisis. It’s completely non-political, focusing instead on the inner workings of one company. It’s simple and easy to understand without being simplistic, and yet with just enough of the technical aspects included to make it feel realistic.

Overall, a very enjoyable and informative viewing experience. Recommended.
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on December 7, 2011
"I was working on something but they wouldn't let me finish, so take a look at it...be careful." The investment banking firm that Eric Dale (Tucci) works at it under hard times. After a day of firing most of his floor Eric is also let go. On his way out he give a project he is working on to young banker Peter (Quinto). After looking at his project and finishing his problem he is left with a dangerous discovery. This movie takes place in a 24 hour period during the beginnings of the economic meltdown that occurred in the country. This movie, much like "Company Men" is a very important movie to watch, and will infuriate you while you watch. While it says it's not based on a true story I have a feeling most of it is probably true. This movie deals with a banking firm that held mortgages and it came out that their formula was wrong for capital holdings and ruined the firm. Rather then coming forward with their problems the CEO decides to sell off the useless stock. To me, while watching this movie I kept getting more and more angry to the point of laughing and scoffing at the TV. That may just be how I feel about it, but this is a must see movie that will leave you talking and thinking. Overall, one of the best movies of the year, and probably a pretty accurate story of what happened. I give it an A.
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on February 28, 2016
Margin Call had an interesting mix of veteran actors and relative unknown players tell a story that was not well publicized in the main stream media. Although not a documentary, this film divulges the driving force behind the market crash of 2008. Situational ethics abounds in many of the fiscal decisions made which causes the viewer to soul search what they would do. I didn't have any preconceived notion of this subject despite the recent political bashing of Wall Street on the US Presidential campaign. I found this a compelling view of a relatively obscure business that defined the pertinent terms without being exceedingly technical.
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on September 6, 2012
Good movie that holds you..beginning to end.
Spacey is great...Baker is awesome....Demi is great as the "bitch" ceo type!
The beginning of the end of the 2008 mess on Wall Street!!!!
I wish they had done another half hour to follow these fools into the mess they made!!:)
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on July 27, 2012
Just to repeat the earlier comments about the excellent acting in this movie -- even in the small parts. If you've only seen Simon Baker in his TV roles it is surprising what a cold hearted weasel he can be in a $3000 Hermes tie.
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on February 28, 2016
Well acted, tough subject matter. I liked Sam's efforts to show some humanity in the midst of a good example of "Nature red in tooth and claw".
A very thought provoking movie. Scary to think its probably still going on today.
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