Following the economic crisis of 2008, banks and their inner workings have provided continual fascination for the public, and consequently Hollywood. Margin Call is the latest film to tackle this hot topic, examining the days leading up to the financial meltdown.
Boasting an all-star cast of Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachery Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci; the film explores the hierarchy of an unnamed Wall Street bank and how the different tiers reacted to the news of their impending demise. As such, Margin Call attempts to address the moral ambiguities of banks’ business and their irresponsible actions that eventually caused the economic crisis.
There is a clear division between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ in the film; these ideals are represented by the best two performances. Stanley Tucci as Senior Risk Analyst Eric Dale represents what is ‘right’, he is thoroughly disenfranchised by the immorality of banking and the devastating effect it has upon everyday peoples’ lives, an effect which holds little to no consequence for the bankers. Opposed to this we have Jeremy Irons’ character of CEO John Tuld, who views the effects as a necessary bi-product of Capitalism as a whole; in his view the financial crisis was unavoidable and at best a good opportunity to make money.
The remaining characters in Margin Call slot in somewhere between these two with Kevin Spacey as Floor Head Sam Rogers – the closest this film has to a main character – falling almost exactly in the middle. At this point I feel I should point out the superb level of acting on display in this film; all of the actors manage to capture the nuances of their characters no matter how despicable or commendable. Jeremy Irons’ performance brilliantly weaves the two warring ideals of his character, whilst Tuld is a deplorable, sickening character, he still exudes a charm which is undeniably welcoming and eerily adds a level of understandability to his character’s actions.
Stanley Tucci also delivers a superb and perhaps underused performance; a man trying to fight a system that conspires against his every action. However, it is Kevin Spacey who delivers the most interesting turn, he manages to capture Rogers’ disgust at what his occupation has become as well as his character’s underlying greed and initial attraction to the career in the first place.
Margin Call incorporates aspects from other banking films that have preceded it, the two most apparent are Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job. However, it never manages to quite capture the brilliance of either; Wall Street succeeds where Margin Call fails in exploring the excessive, vindictive and backstabbing nature of Wall Street to show a disturbing side to the lucrative business. Inside Job in turn examined the system that allowed this unregulated Capitalism to run rampant and ultimately cave in on itself. However, Margin Call never makes its position known; it neither condemns nor praises the bankers for their decisions and draws no conclusions from any of the points raised throughout the film.
Ultimately, Margin Call is a film of middles; it takes the middle ground with Kevin Spacey, it is a midpoint between Wall Street and Inside Job and ultimately it encourages a middling reaction. I was by no means overwhelmed by this film, yet at the same time I was not overly disappointed. I would still recommend Margin Call for the brilliant performances alone, but other than that I struggle to find anything else to inspire me, a damning quality for a film which is attempting to tap into such a fascinating event.