Film Review: Margin Call

If I were to start with a plot introduction, many of you won’t give Margin Call a second look. So let’s start by naming the cast – that may catch your attention. Margin Call stars a host of great actors, including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto (Syler from Heroes), Simon Baker (The Mentalist), Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore –  all of whom wavered their usual million dollar plus pay checks for a chance to be in this movie. So what’s it all about?

The plot isn’t your usual fairytale or thriller; no monsters, aliens, beasts, ghosts, fairies or other made up imaginary beings. Instead, Margin Call is based on real life events that took place not too long ago, in fact, not even 5 years ago. Many of you have probably felt the aftermath of the real story but never really understood what happened or what went wrong… yep, I’m talking about the financial crisis of 2008 – the one that triggered that huge recession that everyone seems to keep talking about.

Margin Call is closely based on what happened a day or so before one of the biggest Investment Banks in the world (Lehman Brothers) filed for bankruptcy. It gives you a real insight into what Investment Bankers actually do and what their lifestyle’s are like. Beyond the fat-cat salaries and the excessively long life-sucking hours, the film takes the audience (us mere mortals who know nothing of the industry) into the offices of the firm and starts with giving us an insight into the level of competition within the industry. Competition is an understatement, it’s dog-eat-dog. Almost brutal, and definitely cruel. Whilst I was watching, I was dumbfounded –  if I were in those offices, I’d have turned into a nervous wreck. The film actually made me feel sorry for these people.

Following the advice of a former colleague, one Analyst (Zachary Quinto) stumbles on something that’s not quite right. He calls in the cavalry and the situation escalates to become a very big problem indeed. This movie isn’t about the technicalities of the business, you don’t have to be a financial whizz kid to understand what’s going on (although it does help to understand the story better). Margin Call’s focus isn’t on what actually went wrong, it’s more about how these bankers discovered the problem.

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries and films about the financial crisis and Lehman Bros’ role in it (see the BBC film-documentary titled ‘The Last Days of Lehman Brothers’ and Matt Damon’s ‘Inside Job’ – both highly recommended viewing for those interested in the financial services industry), but Margin Call does something that none of these other films have done – it looks at it from the Bankers’ point of view.

Margin Call humanizes the industry and the people working in it. It displays the level of ambition and intellect required to succeed. It’s more than just a film telling the story, it adds emotion. I wouldn’t call it a psychological thriller, but it sure does have points where your hairs stand on end. If you’ve worked in a professional job, and felt the wrath of a senior manager, you’ll know what I’m talking about even more.

Seriously, it is the best adaption I have seen so far. Add to that, great actors and an incredible script, Margin Call is a movie not to be missed. Whether you know what Investment Bankers do or not, Margin Call appeals to whoever is interested in the human element of the story. It’s also one of the best independent films (low-budget compared to your usual Hollywood blockbuster) I’ve seen and I’m not the only one who seems to think so. It’s already won a host of awards (Best Original Screenplay, for example) and Rotten Tomatoes has given it a rating of 89%.

So take a walk into the world that is Investment Banking and see how a few people’s decisions affected millions around the globe…

Out in Cinemas now.

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