FILM REVIEW: Margin Call (15)

As the current financial crisis attests, money makes the world go round and when the flow of capital is restricted, the ripple effect is felt from one continent to the next.

Writer-director JC Chandor explores the questionable morality of a fictitious group of men and women at the centre of the current collapse in Margin Call.

Set at a large investment bank with echoes of ill-fated Lehman Brothers, this taut thriller unfolds over 36 nail-biting hours as executives in sharply tailored suits huddle in boardrooms and take the momentous decisions that will send shockwaves through the markets.

Yet wealth is ultimately just a series of figures on a computer screen.

As the most powerful figure in the film coolly observes, “It’s just money, it’s made up: pieces of paper with pictures on them so we don’t have to kill each other just to get something to eat.”

That’s easy for him to say, he has plenty.

Junior risk analysts Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) watch with horror as human resources sweeps through their floor, pulling aside employees, including their boss Eric (Stanley Tucci), as part of a massive redundancy plan.

“I was taking a look at something but they wouldn’t let me finish it. Be careful,” Eric warns Peter, handing his brightest underling a memory stick before he is escorted from the building.

Peter spends the night assessing the data and he makes a horrifying discovery: the company’s formula for long-term growth is fatally flawed.

In short, projected losses are more than the net worth.

Having alerted senior colleague Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and head of sales Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), Peter and Seth watch in awe as high-ranking executives, including head of securities Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and ballsy head of risk assessment Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), rush to the office in the dead of night.

Then CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) descends from on high and listens with cool detachment as Peter reiterates his sobering findings.

Margin Call doesn’t get too bogged down in the economics so we’re able to follow the characters as they plot an escape plan that involves asking the sales floor to clear 93% of certain assets in exchange for individual bonuses of 1.4 million dollars.

Irons chews scenery with gusto, telling one of his lieutenants with an icy glare: “I need a head to feed to the traders on the floor.”

Spacey reflects the humanity in the eye of a storm as a department head desperately trying to protect the people under him from the full force of the blast, while the rest of the boardroom jockeys for position.

If Gordon Gecko, the oily anti-hero of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, was right and greed is good, then the characters in Chador’s film are very good indeed.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10

Released: January 13 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)