Margin Call review

This well made Wall Street drama presents 24 hours in the life of one of those smug and self congratulatory financial institutions as it is about to go under heralding the credit crunch. It purports to be an example in many ways of all the investment banks that fell foul of fiscal responsibility, ushering in redundancy and unemployment for many.
 
Quinto is the intelligent investment risk underling who stumbles upon the information that the firm he works for has completely overstepped its financial moorings and is heading for oblivion. He reports the news to his boss Bettany late one evening and he in turn then has to make the impending doomsday scenario known to his superior Spacey. As the info goes up the chain, a 2.15am boardroom meeting is organised by top dogs Baker and Moore, with CEO Irons chairing it.  He asks for it all to be explained to him in plain language, which Quinto helpfully does - and this impeccably acted sequence is the most riveting in the whole movie.
 
Up to this point this masterly financial opus has steadily built up steam in the most absorbing fashion. The performances are all uniformly excellent with a special mention going to Spacey. At first one thinks he is an uncaring bastard as he is more concerned with health of his dog than his redundant employees being frogmarched from the company premises, but one slowly gets to witness a more pragmatic and honorable attitude from him, certainly in relation to the scheming and selfish ways of Baker and Moore, who are up the next level in the bank's hierarchy. Irons is very entertaining as the head honcho, confidently coming up with a supposed solution to the impending disaster. He's great fun to watch but his American accent fails to convince. And one mustn't forget a sly turn from Tucci, in a small but pivotal role.
 
In the latter stages, however, the narrative sadly loses impetus, becoming slow and stagey and the dialogue turning unnecessarily didactic. This is a shame because if it maintained the tension of the first half it would be an early contender for 2012 Top Ten lists. No matter, it is still a smart and articulate effort done with precision and skill. Worth seeing regardless and the ensemble cast are terrific. 

Margin Call at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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