Margin Call


The 2008 economic downturn has many victims—foreclosed homeowners, students and credit card holders unable to make exorbitant interest payments, unemployed government and industrial workers. Margin Call, directed by J. C. Chandor, asks us to feel sorry for Wall Street underlings. When the film begins, Eric Dale (played by Stanley Tucci) has just been fired from an investment firm, which buys up underpriced stock on margin to be sold later at a profit. The victim of falling values of the investments, he is one of 80 percent of the risk management team who must pack up as the firm downsizes. As he departs, he passes a baton (in the form of a computer stick) to a colleague, Peter Sullivan (played by Zachary Quinto), saying “Be careful!” The data, he then learns, prove that the firm lacks the capital to respond to margin calls, so he notifies his boss, Will Emerson (played by Paul Bettany), who in turn informs Sam Rogers (played by Kevin Spacey), the head of the risk management division. Rogers, in turn, informs the president, John Tuld (played by Jeremy Irons). Tuld, who then must fire almost everyone, is philosophical, reciting the many economic collapses under capitalism as if resigned to an Economic Darwinism but oblivious of the suffering of millions. Rogers, grateful that he is one of the few who is retained in the downsized firm, admits candidly “I need the money.” Aside from feeling sorry for himself, Rogers mourns the death of his dog, and reflects that he has accomplished nothing in his career—not even digging a hole in the ground. Then he digs one for his dog in the front lawn of his ex-wife! But the film is rather boring, overly long, plays in art house cinemas, and could be interpreted as sarcastic in trying to portray investment house employees as victims. Why, then, did Bettany, Irons, Spacey and even Demi Moore accept a role in such an odd film? Perhaps they, too, needed the money.  MH

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