Margin Call (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Margin Call
Margin Call.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by J. C. Chandor
Produced by Joe Jenckes
Robert Ogden Barnum
Corey Moosa
Michael Benaroya
Neal Dodson
Zachary Quinto
Written by J. C. Chandor
Starring Kevin Spacey
Paul Bettany
Jeremy Irons
Zachary Quinto
Penn Badgley
Simon Baker
Mary McDonnell
Demi Moore
Stanley Tucci
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Frank DeMarco
Edited by Pete Beaudreau
Before the Door Pictures
Washington Square Films
Untitled Entertainment
Sakonnet Capital Partners
Distributed by Lionsgate
Roadside Attractions
Benaroya Pictures
Release dates
  • January 25, 2011 (2011-01-25) (Sundance Film Festival)
  • October 21, 2011 (2011-10-21) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million[1]
Box office $19.5 million[1]

Margin Call is a 2011 American independent drama film written and directed by J. C. Chandor. The story takes place over a 36-hour period at a large Wall Street investment bank and highlights the initial stages of the financial crisis of 2007–08.[2][3] In focus are the actions taken by a group of employees during the subsequent financial collapse.[4] The ensemble cast features Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci.

The film was a co-production between the motion picture studios of Before the Door Pictures, Benaroya Pictures, Washington Square Films, Margin Call Productions, Sakonnet Capital Partners, and Untitled Entertainment. Theatrically, it was commercially distributed by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Margin Call explores capitalism, greed and investment fraud.[5] Following its wide release in theaters, the film garnered award nominations for its production merits from the Detroit Film Critics Society, along with several separate nominations for its screenplay and direction from recognized award organizations, including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The score was orchestrated 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 revenue. Preceding its initial screening to the public, Margin Call was generally met with positive critical reviews. The DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film were released in the United States on December 20, 2011.


Junior risk analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), his more senior colleague Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), and trading desk head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) watch as human resources staff of their (never-named) firm, along with building security, conduct an unannounced mass layoff right on their trading floor, at the start of an otherwise normal business day. One of the fired employees is Peter and Seth's boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), head of risk management on the floor. Dale attempts to tell his now former employer that the firm should look into what he has been working on, but the contracted human resources staff have no interest other than him quickly leaving the building. While Dale is being escorted out, he gives Peter a USB memory stick with a project he had been working on, telling him to "be careful" just as he boards the elevator.

That night, Sullivan finishes Dale's project and discovers that current volatility in the firm's portfolio of mortgage-backed securities will soon exceed the historical volatility levels of the positions. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm's assets decrease by 25% in value, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalization. He also discovers that, given the normal length of time that the firm holds such securities, this loss must occur. Sullivan alerts Emerson, who calls floor head Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey).

These now key employees remain at the firm for a series of meetings with progressively more senior executives, including division head Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), chief risk management officer Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), and finally CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). Cohen's plan is for the firm to quickly sell all of the toxic assets before the market learns of their worthlessness, thereby limiting the firm's exposure, a course favored by Tuld over Rogers's strong objection. Rogers warns Cohen and Tuld that dumping the firm's toxic assets will spread the risk throughout the financial sector and will destroy the firm's relationships with its counterparties. He also warns Cohen that their customers will quickly learn of the firm's plans, once they realize that the firm is only selling the toxic securities.

They finally locate Dale, who had been missing after service to his company phone was deactivated. He has been persuaded to come in with the promise of a generous fee and the threat of having his severance package challenged if he didn't. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Robertson, Cohen, and Tuld were aware of the risks in the weeks leading up to the crisis. Tuld plans to offer Robertson's resignation to the board and employees as a scapegoat.

Before the markets open, Rogers tells his traders they will receive seven-figure bonuses if they achieve a 93% reduction in certain MBS asset classes in a "fire sale". He admits that the traders are effectively ending their careers by destroying their relationships with their clients. Meanwhile, Robertson and Dale sit in an office, being paid handsomely to do nothing for the day; Robertson vigorously defends herself that she warned of the risks although perhaps not loudly enough. Emerson keeps on closing the positions, but his counterparties become increasingly agitated and suspicious as the day wears on. After trading hours end, Rogers watches the same human resources team begin another round of layoffs on his floor. He confronts Tuld in the executive dining area and asks to resign, but Tuld dismisses his protests, claiming that the current crisis is really no different from various crashes and bear markets of the past, and that sharp gains and losses are simply part of the economic cycle. He persuades Rogers to stay at the firm for another two years, promising that there will be a lot of money to be made from the coming crisis. Rogers notices Sullivan meeting with Cohen; Tuld informs Rogers he will promote Sullivan.

In the final scene, Rogers is shown in his ex-wife's front lawn late at night, burying his dog that has died of cancer—thinking that since the dog had spent most of its life there that it should be buried there. His ex-wife comes out and reminds him that he doesn't live there anymore. She reassures him that their son, who is implied to also work on Wall Street, took a hit from the day's trading but will be okay. As the credits roll, Rogers continues to dig.


Actor Kevin Spacey portrayed Sam Rogers.



Principal photography began on June 21, 2010, in New York City.[2] More than 80 percent of the action was shot on the 42nd floor of One Penn Plaza, which had recently been vacated by a trading firm.[6][7] 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.[8][9] 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.[10]


Critical response[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics, garnering an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus: "Smart, tightly wound, and solidly acted, Margin Call turns the convoluted financial meltdown of '08 into gripping, thought-provoking drama."[11] The New Yorker film critic David Denby said it was "easily the best Wall Street movie ever made".[12] 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."[13] 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."[14]


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] reflect the enormity of what is happening: Their company and their lives are being rendered meaningless."[13] 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."[14]

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.[15] In the film Jeremy Irons says that there is an advantage to moving first, and Goldman Sachs certainly did that. Lehman Brothers moved second and went bankrupt. Also, on September 21, 2008, Goldman Sachs became a traditional bank holding company and left investment banking. This would have made sense for the fictional bank in the film, since, as they said, their customer base would essentially disappear.[16]


Awards Group Category Recipient Result
84th Academy Awards Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay J. C. Chandor Nominated
Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA)[17] Best Film – International J. C. Chandor Nominated
Best Direction – International J. C. Chandor Nominated
Best Screenplay – International J. C. Chandor Won
Casting Society of America[18] Outstanding Achievement in Casting for a Studio or Independent Drama Feature Bernard Telsey, Tiffany Little Canfield Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society[19] Best Ensemble Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Won
Best First Screenplay Nominated
Robert Altman Award Won
National Board of Review Awards[20] Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut J. C. Chandor Won
Top 10 Independent Films Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards[21] Best Original Screenplay J. C. Chandor Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[22] Best First Film J. C. Chandor Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Margin Call". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  2. ^ a b Dash, Eric (June 22, 2010). "Citi Goes Hollywood for Spacey and Crew". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  3. ^ Fleming, Mike (September 13, 2010). "Margin Call Director J.C. Chandor Snags Big Warner Bros Writing Gig From DiCaprio". Deadline New York. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  4. ^ Kit, Borys (June 15, 2010). "Simon Baker, Paul Bettany eye indie drama". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  5. ^ Kyle Bryan (Director). (2011). Margin Call [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate.
  6. ^ Wallace, Benjamin (October 16, 2011). "What's Up, Spock?: He might be a famous Vulcan, but Zachary Quinto has no problem being fully human". New York Magazine. 
  7. ^ Chesto, Jon. "Director of "Margin Call" didn't need a big budget to depict Wall Street's mortgage meltdown". 
  8. ^ "The Competition of the 61st Berlinale". Berlinale. Retrieved January 20, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Spacey, Moore and 3D in focus at Berlin film fest". Yahoo News. Retrieved January 20, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Before The Door". 2015. Retrieved May 24, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes". 
  12. ^ "All That Glitters". The New Yorker. 
  13. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (October 19, 2011). "Margin Call". Retrieved May 24, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Scott, A. O. (21 October 2011). "Margin Call with Zachary Quinto Review". The New York Times. (subscription required (help)). 
  15. ^ Alloway, Tracey (December 10, 2010). "Goldman's uneasy subprime short". The Financial Times. Retrieved May 24, 2015. [not in citation given]
  16. ^ Goldman, Morgan Stanley Bring Down Curtain on an Era, bloomberg, September 22, 2008
  17. ^ "AACTA Awards winners and nominees" (PDF). Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). 31 January 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  18. ^ "Casting Society of America Announces Artios Awards Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. August 20, 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Detroit Film Critics". 2012. Archived from the original on February 23, 2010. 
  20. ^ Corliss, Richard (December 1, 2011). "Year-End Awards: National Board of Review Says 'We Go with Hugo'". TIME. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  21. ^ Pond, Steve (December 11, 2011). "San Francisco film critics pick "Tree of Life"". The Wrap. Reuters. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  22. ^ ""The Artist" Leads New York Film Critics' Circle Awards". November 29, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 

External links[edit]