Reviews Too Late: Margin Call

by wjw on August 28, 2012

Somewhere between the end of Bubonicon and packing for Chicon, I found time to watch a movie.  Lucky it was a good one.

Gotta say, this little independent film brought out the heavyweights.  Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Mary McConnell, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore.   All acting the fuck out of a script written in four days by writer/director J.C. Chandor.

It’s a very unusual film.  There’s enormous suspense, but not a lot of plot.  No one is saved.  No one changes.  No one is redeemed.  And the world is fucked over six ways from Sunday.

It’s downsizing day at a huge Wall Street firm, so of course the first person to go is Stanley Tucci, the head of risk management.  Before he leaves he manages to tell one of his minions, Zachary Quinto, that some numbers aren’t quite adding up, and that he should look into them.  Which Zach does, after which he discovers that the financial instruments the company has been offering are worth, well, considerably less than zero.  Specifically, that volatility in mortgage-backed securities are exceeding the historical volatility levels used by the firm to calculate risk.


One by one the firm’s heavyweights are called in, all played by the film’s heavyweight actors.  Even Stanley Tucci is called back.  The Masters of the Universe all discover that their firm is about to go into the toilet unless they can somehow unload all the poison securities in a matter of hours.

But that, of course, would just spread the poison around.  Instead of one firm taking a fatal hit, the fatality would be spread over the entire market— to other firms, to banks, to governments, to pension funds.

Did I mention the film is set in 2008?  Um, yeah.

So the question is: should the firm die, or should it try to kill everyone else in a Hobbesian attempt to survive?

So here’s one character’s answer:  People wanna live like this in their cars and big fuckin’ houses they can’t even pay for, then you’re necessary. 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 fuckin’ fair really fuckin’ quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well, that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow, so fuck em. Fuck normal people.

Massively good acting.  Wonderful script.  Taut direction.  We know how it ends, but somehow that doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen a lot of films in which apocalypse happens.  Alien invasion, nuclear war, plague, nuclear meltdown, ghost invasions, zombies, earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors and comets falling . . .

This is the best apocalypse movie ever.  Check it out.

Jerry September 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Thsi film is now available for instant viewing on Netflix.

It still surprises and delights me, Mr. Williams, that you are so skilled at putting your finger on THE point of a thing, pulling it out of context, shining a light on it, and then putting it back. And only then do I realize that the original context was only a veneer.

The difference is that this time, I had your analysis before I saw the thing itself. I’m still letting this unsettling movie settle. So I don’t quite know what to say other than You’re Always Fascinating. Thank you.

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