|Directed by||J. C. Chandor|
|Written by||J. C. Chandor|
|Edited by||Pete Beaudreau|
|Music by||Nathan Larson|
|Box office||$19.5 million|
Margin Call is a 2011 American financial thriller film written and directed by J. C. Chandor in his feature directorial debut. The principal story takes place over a 24-hour period at a large Wall Street investment bank during the initial stages of the financial crisis of 2007–2008. In focus are the actions taken by a group of employees during the subsequent financial collapse. The film stars an ensemble cast consisting of Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci.
The film was produced by the production companies Before the Door Pictures (first to sign on, and owned by Zachary Quinto), Benaroya Pictures, and Washington Square Films. Theatrically, it was commercially distributed by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Margin Call explores capitalism, greed, and investment fraud. The director and screenwriter, J. C. Chandor, is himself the son of an investment banker; the screenplay was partially informed by Chandor's own foray into real estate investments in New York City shortly before the financial crash. Following its wide release in theaters, the film garnered award nominations from the Detroit Film Critics Society, along with several separate nominations for its screenplay and direction from recognized award organizations, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The score was composed by musician Nathan Larson.
The film made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2011, and opened in theaters nationwide in the United States on October 21, 2011, grossing $5,354,039 in domestic ticket receipts. It was screened at 199 theaters during its widest release in cinemas. It earned an additional $14,150,000 in business through international release to top out at a combined $19,504,039 in gross theatrical revenue. It was a ground-breaking day-and-date release that earned more than $10,000,000 in video-on-demand sales during its initial theatrical release. Preceding its theatrical release, Margin Call was met with positive critical reviews. The DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film were released in the United States on December 20, 2011.
In 2008, an unnamed investment bank begins laying off a large number of employees. Among those affected is Eric Dale, head of risk management. Dale's attempts to speak about the implications of his current project are ignored, but he gives a flash drive containing his work to Peter Sullivan, an associate in his department, cryptically telling him, "Be careful." Sullivan, intrigued, works after-hours to complete Dale's model.
Sullivan discovers that the assumptions underpinning the firm's present risk profile are wrong; historical volatility levels in mortgage-backed securities are being exceeded, which means that the firm's position in those assets is overleveraged and a decline in their value large enough to cause the firm's bankruptcy could occur in the near future. Sullivan urges his colleague, Seth Bregman, to return to work with head of credit trading Will Emerson; Emerson in turn summons Sam Rogers, his boss, after reviewing Sullivan's findings. Attempts by the four to contact Dale end unsuccessfully, due to his company phone having been shut off.
A subsequent meeting of division head Jared Cohen, chief risk management officer Sarah Robertson, and other senior executives concludes that Sullivan's findings are accurate, and firm CEO John Tuld is called. Upon Tuld's arrival, after Sullivan explains the problem, Rogers, Cohen, and Tuld spar regarding a course of action. Cohen's strategy, favored by Tuld, is a fire sale of the problematic assets, but Rogers points out that this will have significant negative effects on the broader market, in addition to destroying the firm's present trading partnerships. Tuld counters that such effects are likely to occur in any case and stresses his desire to avoid bankruptcy regardless of the cost.
After the meeting with Tuld, Emerson is informed by Dale's wife that Dale has returned home. Emerson travels to Dale's residence with Bregman and attempts to persuade Dale to return to the firm for the fire sale, but is unsuccessful. During the drive back, Bregman asks if he will lose his job; Emerson responds that he likely will, but, philosophizing on the nature of the financial markets, tells him not to lose faith that his work is necessary. Tuld selects Robertson to act as a public scapegoat for the firm's overleveraged position and will need to resign after the fire sale, even when Robertson argues that she warned Tuld and Cohen about the situation over a year ago. Meanwhile, Tuld's subordinates are able to coax Dale into cooperating, and he commiserates during the trading day with Robertson, his former superior.
Rogers, having been convinced by Tuld that a fire sale is best for the firm, informs his traders of their task as they arrive for the day. He acknowledges the damage likely to be done to their reputations and careers, but reveals that as compensation, seven-figure bonuses will be disbursed if most of the traders' assigned assets are sold by day's end. As trading progresses, the firm elicits suspicion and eventually anger, and incurs steepening losses, but is ultimately able to close its position.
Subsequently, another large portion of Rogers's traders are laid off. Rogers, despite not himself being affected, is angry, and confronts Tuld demanding to quit. Tuld dismisses Rogers' view of the situation by recalling past economic crises, saying that such events are bound to happen and Rogers should not feel guilty for acting in his and the firm's interests. Tuld asks Rogers to stay on for two more years; Rogers accepts, but protests that he still disagrees with Tuld's outlook and only needs the money. Tuld also tells Rogers that Sullivan's going to be promoted.
The film ends with Rogers burying his euthanized dog in his ex-wife's front yard during the night. His ex-wife, after emerging to speak with him, notes that their son's firm sustained heavy losses but resisted bankruptcy.
- Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers, a senior manager on the trading floor, Will's boss, and transitively Peter's and Seth's.
- Zachary Quinto as Dr. Peter Sullivan, one of Eric's risk associates, who first uncovers the crisis.
- Jeremy Irons as John Tuld, the CEO of the firm, who is flown in to deal with the crisis.
- Paul Bettany as Will Emerson, head of credit trading.
- Simon Baker as Jared Cohen, division chief for the firm (possibly head of capital markets, either globally or just for the US), who reports directly to Tuld.
- Penn Badgley as Seth Bregman, one of Eric's junior risk analysts, who is dragged along for the ride.
- Demi Moore as Sarah Robertson, chief risk management officer, and colleague of Cohen's.
- Stanley Tucci as Eric Dale, head of risk management under Sam, who is fired in the layoffs.
- Aasif Mandvi as Ramesh Shah, an unspecified senior management officer (possibly the company's General Counsel) from "upstairs".
- Mary McDonnell as Mary Rogers, Sam's ex-wife.
- Ashley Williams as Heather Burke, one of the junior HR officers responsible for the layoffs.
- Susan Blackwell as Lauren Bratberg, one of the senior HR officers responsible for the layoffs.
- Al Sapienza as Louis Carmelo, Tuld's personal advisor and aide.
The film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film also played In Competition at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Bear. The film was produced by Zachary Quinto's production company, Before the Door Pictures, by Quinto and his two producing partners and Carnegie Mellon University classmates, Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa.
The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 87% based on 172 reviews, with an average rating of 7.20/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Smart, tightly wound, and solidly acted, Margin Call turns the convoluted financial meltdown of '08 into gripping, thought-provoking drama." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The New Yorker film critic David Denby said it was "easily the best Wall Street movie ever made". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and half stars out of four, and said: "Margin Call employs an excellent cast who can make financial talk into compelling dialogue." A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: "It is hard to believe that Margin Call is Mr. Chandor’s first feature. His formal command—his ability to imply far more than he shows or says and to orchestrate a large, complex drama out of whispers, glances, and snippets of jargon—is downright awe inspiring."
Roger Ebert wrote: "I think the movie is about how its characters are concerned only by the welfare of their corporations. There is no larger sense of the public good. Corporations are amoral, and exist to survive and succeed, at whatever human cost. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are angry about: They are not against capitalism, but about Wall Street dishonesty and greed. [...] [The cast] reflects the enormity of what is happening: Their company and their lives are being rendered meaningless." A.O. Scott wrote: "Margin Call is a thriller, moving through ambient shadows to the anxious tempo of Nathan Larson’s hushed, anxious score. It is also a horror movie, with disaster lurking like an unseen demon outside the skyscraper windows and behind the computer screens. It is also a workplace comedy of sorts. The crackling, syncopated dialogue and the plot, full of reversals and double crosses, owe an obvious debt to David Mamet’s profane fables of deal-making machismo. Hovering over all of it is the dark romance of capital: the elegance of numbers; the kinkiness of money; the deep, rotten, erotic allure of power."
Although the film does not depict any real Wall Street firm, and the fictional firm is never named, the plot has similarities to some events during the 2008 financial crisis: Goldman Sachs similarly moved early to hedge and reduce its position in mortgage-backed securities, at the urging of two employees, which essentially mirrors Tuld's comment about the advantage of moving first. Lehman Brothers moved second and went bankrupt. John Tuld's name is said to be a combination of Merrill Lynch's ex-CEO John Thain and Lehman Brothers' ex-CEO Richard Fuld.
|Academy Awards||Best Original Screenplay||J. C. Chandor||Nominated|
|Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts||Best Film – International||J. C. Chandor, Neal Dodson, Zachary Quinto||Nominated|
|Best Direction – International||J. C. Chandor||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay – International||Won|
|Casting Society of America||Outstanding Achievement in Casting
for a Studio or Independent Drama Feature
|Bernard Telsey, Tiffany Little Canfield||Nominated|
|Detroit Film Critics Society||Best Ensemble||Nominated|
|Independent Spirit Awards||Best First Feature||J. C. Chandor, Neal Dodson, Zachary Quinto||Won|
|Best First Screenplay||J. C. Chandor||Nominated|
|Robert Altman Award||J. C. Chandor, Tiffany Little Canfield, Bernie Telsey, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci||Won|
|National Board of Review Awards||Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut||J. C. Chandor||Won|
|Top 10 Independent Films||Nominated|
|San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Original Screenplay||J. C. Chandor||Won|
|New York Film Critics Circle Awards||Best First Film||Won|
- The Big Short (film)
- Inside Job (2010)
- Glengarry Glen Ross
- The Hummingbird Project
- Bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers
- Great Recession
- Too Big to Fail (film)
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