Netflix Review: Margin Call

Alright, some background info.  I graduated with an accounting and finance degree, I worked in an insurance company’s tax department for 4-5 years and currently work as a contract underwriter.  I also actually enjoy reading the business section of the newspaper.  So I was very much looking forward to watching Margin Call.  My wife, who teaches middle school social studies, was less enthused and was asleep before I even hit play.  But I will say, as long as you know and accept what you’re about to watch, it’s a pretty good movie.

Margin Call is a fictionalized story that is basically ripped from the headlines of the Lehman Brothers collapse in August 2008, which was the first major domino of the whole financial meltdown.  It is not a sweeping story that covers how they got to the point of collapse.  It takes place over the course of about a day and a half. It begins in a New York skyscraper of an unnamed mega-financial institution laying off most of its trading staff.  But soon, some of the surviving research and analysis staff come across a problem with the firm’s trading assets that could sink the company within days

End of the bullish era

The rest of the movie basically covers what happens over the course of that night as all the big wigs are brought in to decide what to do.  The movie then goes from meeting to meeting, whether it’s in a boardroom or a bathroom as the key players hash out the details and play internal politics.  It becomes a story really about the moral dilemma they face on how their decisions will effect the rest of the economic world.  Do they care about the little people that occupy the rest of society or just their bonus and the company’s bottom line survival?

The ensemble cast is impressive with stars filling every scene.   Zachary Quinto is solid as the “main” character who discovers this problem.  Jeremy Irons is perfectly cast as the charismatic but dick-ish CEO making the final decisions.  Kevin Spacey is good doing his reserved but frustrated thing.  Paul Bettany is great but you never really know what his role with the company is and Stanley Tucci is awesome as always.  However, Demi Moore just seemed out of place.  I don’t want to sound sexist but it felt like the producers said we need an attractive female in the midst of all these middle-aged white guys.

Sadly, Demi’s fully dressed in Margin Call

It’s not a perfect movie.  It feels like the producers/writers tried to do what Aaron Sorkin did for Social Network or Moneyball but without Sorkin’s creative writing ability, and it’s fairly obvious.  There is some very wooden dialogue (some may think “like this review…”) and some very forced and heavy-handed social commentary.  However, there are also some very well crafted scenes that do leave an impact.  The storytelling over a 24 hour period makes it very watchable and the pacing is very good.  It could have easily been a drawn out epic about what led to this and the ramifications of their actions but they chose just to tell the story of that one night for one company.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie for what is was.  It is definitely not a movie for everyone just because of the subject matter.  But if you work in business or for a large company and/or followed the whole economic collapse closely, you’ll probably buy right in.  If you want good documentaries on the issue, check out Inside Job and Capitalism: A Love Story although beware of the political biases if you’re real sensitive.  But if none of that appeals to you, you’ll just end up being my wife asleep on the couch.

Margin Call is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  What do you think?  Has anyone seen this movie?