It’s the best Wall Street movie ever made
David Denby, film critic for The New Yorker, describes Margin Call as “one of the strongest American films of the year (2011) and easily the best Wall Street movie ever made”. He writes beautifully about the film here. (Perhaps bear in mind that he wrote a memoir titled American Sucker, based on his failed attempt to make money on the stock market following the break up of his marriage.)
But actually it’s about character
I imagine some of you might be asking: “But why on earth would we want to see a film about the world of high finance?” And yes, indeed, Margin Call is set within a financial institution over a 24-hour period at the very beginning of the 2007/08 global financial crisis (GFC), which is why it didn’t entice me. But Margin Call is a must-see because it’s a highly tense thriller that digs around in the psyche of human beings at a time when they are under extreme pressure. There’s no-one here that’s just good or just bad; everyone is just human.
The stellar cast
And oh, what a cast: Kevin Spacey (playing a dog lover), Jeremy Irons, our own Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, the wonderful Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore (in a sea of men). Actor Zachary Quinto isn’t as widely known as any of them but he is splendid as the young analyst at the heart of the film. He was also one of the many producers on the picture. The film won the Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards, a prize that is shared by the cast, director and casting director (in this case, Tiffany Little Canfield).
The exceptional script
This film is really just conversation. Given that, and despite the breathtakingly skilled ensemble, to get a film of this quality necessitates a script with exceptional characterisation and dialogue. Cue debut screenwriter J.C. Chandor, who received an Academy Award nomination in the category for original script.
The controlled direction
To get a thriller with this much tension requires utterly controlled direction. Cue Mr. Chandor again, as he was the director too. Margin Call was crowned best first feature at the Independent Spirit Awards and was in competition in both Sundance and Berlin. Chandor discusses the film here and, on video, here. Oh, and if you want to be reminded of what Wall Street films are out there, take a look here. You will learn from these links why it feels like this writer/director knows the world of the film like the back of his hand: his father was an investment banker for decades.
Australian filmmakers take note
And finally, the film also gives me goose bumps because it is a demonstration of what can be done on a budget not much more than US$3m (tiny in filmmaking terms) and a 17-day shooting schedule. (Read: what could be done in Australia.) It is principally set in one location – high-up in a New York skyscraper – and has no big car chases, fantasy sequences or special effects. Nevertheless, with this cast, it is gobsmacking that it was made for that budget. Gobsmacking. The filmmakers were certainly more fiscally responsible than the financial dudes that the film is about!
Watch 'Margin Call'
Monday 20 July, 9:35pm on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)
Wednesday 22 July, 2:20am on SBS World Movies
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore
What's it about?
Set in the high-stakes world of the financial industry, Margin Call involves the key players at an investment firm during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When an entry-level analyst unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster. Academy Award-nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2012.