Margin Call

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Oh the pleasures of going back to 2007. Back when everyone had a job, the stock market was doing wonders for everyone (it even trickled down to my parents who are not stock market people) and a college degree was still something more than the piece of paper it was printed on. But all of that had to end and the writing was on the walls. As Obama came into office, he had a shit storm to clean up including bailing out a multitude of different companies including many of the players on the stock market. And we are still limping away from the devastation with high unemployment rates, the sinking of the middle class with a surprising rapidity and an insane rise in cost of living. Margin Call explores how this could happen to a country so cocksure by focusing their attention on one company that was loosely based on a company that helped to facilitate the downfall, Lehman Brothers.

This film starts out with a huge wave of firings in an analyst meeting. About eighty percent of their staff is about to be cut and one of them is Peter’s (Zachary Quinto) boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). On his way out, Eric gives Peter a flash drive with some precarious information on it. Peter looks at the information after all the safe people go out to celebrate. What he finds is terrifying. He calls in his boss, who calls in his boss, who then calls in his boss and so on until we get to a three a.m. meeting where a group of corporation zombies are deciding the fate of a huge section of an economy. They decide to dump all of their assets before anyone else figures out what a hole they dug for themselves.

This is ultimately an actor’s film. And the actors are well-chosen. Zachary Quinto has always been good at playing well-meaning characters. Paul Bettany is great as suave dude able to convince anyone of doing anything based solely on how confident he is. Kevin Spacey is actually sympathetic and seems to be the place holder for the director’s father who worked at Merrill Lynch for most of his life. And finally Jeremy Irons is pitch perfect as the cold-hearted CEO who doesn’t care about what it will do the market, just what this will do to his pocket-book if anyone gets to the information before he acts. Each actor made their financial sector jobs feel like things they lived and breathed in and not something they just put on for this film. They made the financial speak seem interesting and board meetings seem tension filled. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel sympathetic for anyone of these people who were about to lose their jobs. What does matter is that I understand what they did and why they did it. But most importantly the film gave context to the financial crisis that we are still suffering through in a way that didn’t want to make me pull my hair out. For this I love the film.

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