Margin Call (Film Review)

Margin Call (Film Review)

I’ll admit that I don’t really understand the business world. To me, it is so complex, and terms are thrown around that I have no idea what they mean. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love me a good movie about Wall Street people doing sketchy things. There has been a solid history of movies about financial fraud or insider trading, that I decided to give Margin Call a shot.

The story is based around a problem discovered by one of the risk analysts of a large firm, just prior to the collapse of the markets in 2008. Margin Call is sort of the last hurrah for this company before everything goes bad, and the rest of the markets follow suit, causing one of the largest financial crises in American history. Now, to describe the issue that was discovered, I revert to the wonders of wikipedia: “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.”

marginSo, what I got out of all that was that things were going to be bad, as they were selling things that weren’t really worth that much anyway.

Margin Call could have taken some time to more deeply explain the problem here, for those of us who are not financial experts. Regardless, even without completely understanding what the central problem was, this was still an enjoyable film. There is an all-star cast here, and the movie was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Based on the strong writing, and the superb acting, seemingly unimportant things become highly suspenseful, and it is exciting to watch and see what the firm is going to do in order to either solve all of their problems, or cut the line and hope for some damage control afterwards. Careers are ended, scapegoats are made, and problems are solved, all with an eye on still being able to make some money once everything settles down.

It is an interesting look at what could have been going on behind the scenes when everything went bad on Wall Street in 2008, seeing how quickly massive, life-altering choices were being made, in order to minimize the damage. Of course, there are ethical issues, whereas the people buying the parts of the company as they attempted to liquidate everything in one day after discovering the glitch, were essentially buying something that was worthless. It is not surprising to see how little value is placed on the end users of these large deals.

Even by the end of the film, I didn’t really understand everything that had happened. Margin Call is definitely for someone who is smarter than me. There was no spoonfeeding of the way things work as there was in other comparable films, such as Wall Street. 

But that didn’t change things from being quite entertaining. Again, with a cast that includes heavyweights like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Zachary Quinto, it is hard to go wrong.

I randomly gave this one a shot on Netflix, and was not disappointed. A very strong, well written, and well acted look at those last moments on Wall Street, when people started to realize that things were going to go south in a big hurry, and the way that they reacted to it.

Worth a watch.