IF DAVID MAMET had opted to make a film about the Global Financial Crisis (or GFC, as it became known in Oz), one imagines it would have looked something like this. Smart, sharp and dark in equal measure, J C Chandor’s ensemble drama summons the spirit of Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, replacing grandstanding with a steely resolve of the players involved: to secure their own regardless of the catastrophic consequences on others.
Essentially fictional, but with more than a passing semblance of truth about it, MARGIN CALL collates the finest ensemble cast since Mamet’s stage-based 1992 masterpiece, for one ugly, non-judgmental view of reality. Or rather, of an eleventh-hour, damage-limitation exercise within an investment bank, forced to dump its highly toxic, sub-prime-backed stock on an unsuspecting market to avoid going under.
Matters start with a series of lay-offs. Among the victims: a middle-aged exec named Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). He appears to have uncovered a gaping hole in the company books: a disc he quietly passes on to young hot-shot Peter Sullivan (STAR TREK’s Zachary Quinto) as he leaves. Before long, a boardroom game of chess is in play, which will dictate who stays, who goes, and who takes the fall.
Chandor – Oscar nominated for this script of an assured feature debut – elicits defined, defiant performances from an A-grade cast. Kevin Spacey, as weary head trader Sam Rogers, gives off a warmth not seen in his latter-day penchant for abhorrent types. Demi Moore, too, delivers an intelligently nuanced turn as the head of risk, whose scalp may yet be claimed by the firm she’s served so unswervingly over the years. Paul Bettany is on crackling form as the cock-sure floor chief, while Australia’s Simon Baker shares a ruthless precision with veteran Jeremy Irons at the company’s head table. All are uniformly magnificent.
Chandor had some insider detail himself for his subject (his father worked at Merrill Lynch), and he tellingly opts not to pass judgment on those who brought the world to its knees in 2009. There are flashes of humourous insight (“Speak to me in English” chides Rogers, of Sullivan’s sobering revelatory gobbldigook), and the nagging certainty that only Tuld (Irons) – whose name rhymes with Lehman Brothers’ Fuld – will get out alive, via his private helipad. We don’t see all hell breaking loose: this is the pre-dawn lead-up to it.
Critical Rating: 8/10.
MARGIN CALL is in cinemas from Thursday.
First published in The Sun-Herald.