Margin Call (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||J. C. Chandor|
|Produced by||Joe Jenckes
Robert Ogden Barnum
|Written by||J. C. Chandor|
|Music by||Nathan Larson|
|Edited by||Pete Beaudreau|
Before the Door Pictures
Washington Square Films
Sakonnet Capital Partners
|Box office||$19.5 million|
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. In focus are the actions taken by a group of employees during the subsequent financial collapse. 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. 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.
- Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers, Head of Sales and Trading
- Demi Moore as Sarah Robertson, Chief Risk Management Officer
- Jeremy Irons as John Tuld, CEO and Chairman of the Board
- Paul Bettany as Will Emerson, Head of Trading
- Stanley Tucci as Eric Dale, Former Head of Risk Management
- Zachary Quinto as Peter Sullivan, Senior Risk Analyst
- Simon Baker as Jared Cohen, Head of Capital Markets
- Penn Badgley as Seth Bregman, Junior Risk Analyst
- Aasif Mandvi as Ramesh Shah
- Mary McDonnell as Mary Rogers
- Ashley Williams as Heather Burke
- Susan Blackwell as Lauren Bratberg
- Al Sapienza as Louis Carmelo
- Maria Dizzia as Executive Assistant
- Peter Y. Kim as Timothy Singh
- Oberon K.A. Adjepong as Coffee Guy
Principal photography began on June 21, 2010, in New York City. 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. 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, 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." 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] reflect 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. 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.
|84th Academy Awards||Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay||J. C. Chandor||Nominated|
|Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA)||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||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||Won|
|Best First Screenplay||Nominated|
|Robert Altman Award||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||J. C. Chandor||Won|
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