Sunday, 15 January 2012



Only a matter of time before the financial crisis sparked a film or two: we've had Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (which was okay although I tend to like my Oliver Stone shoutier than that) and now this independent banking drama/thriller which does mainly consist of men barking jargon and buzzwords at one another. Mercifully, it's not completely incomprehensible although you do need to pay attention, and the one thing that leaps out is that it's not the traders on the phones who are the villains of the banking apocalypse: they're just the troops on the grounds and they're no safer than anyone else. It's the hawks in the boardrooms, at the very top of the structure, that are the outright hateful bastards and they're safe and always will be. The blokes actually selling the bad deals are just doing their jobs.

The wikipedia page that explains what a Margin Call actually is might as well be written in Ferengi for all the sense it makes; thankfully the film simplifies everything right down to the point where even I can almost grasp what's going on. At an unnamed banking corporation, a freshly redundant Stanley Tucci passes an incomplete file to Zachary Quinto; Quinto analyses it and deduces that the company is right on the brink of financial annihilation. It's passed up the chain via Paul Bettany, Simon Baker (incidentally a dead ringer for Jamie Oliver), Demi Moore and Kevin Spacey but it's not until CEO Jeremy Irons shows up via helicopter at two in the morning that it's decided the only way out is to Sell All These Toxic Debts As Quickly As Possible To Whoever Will Buy Them - a strategy which may result in everyone losing their jobs and the bank's reputation being trashed to the point that no-one will ever want to trade with them again, but Irons will survive. And survival is everything.

It's hard to feel any sympathy for the analysts on the trading desks: they're paid ridiculous amounts of money for buying and selling imaginary stuff. Bettany's character takes over a million a year, Spacey's considerably more. But uberbastard Irons, secure and remote from the trades themselves (and indeed from Planet Earth) is on eighty-nine million dollars; he's the genuine hate figure who will throw everyone and everything to the wolves - even his own people who'll man the phones and save the corporation for him regardless of the cost to themselves and the mugs they've sold worthless stuff to.

I rather enjoyed Margin Call although I suspect it's not going to be a big attraction. I guess you can interpret it as a message movie about what happens when banks are allowed to do what they like regardless of the consequences, though that's really a message we're already more than familiar with through the news. As a drama, it works perfectly well: to a financial outsider, the babbling about historical volatility levels and market capitalisation is really the same brand of nonsense Doctor Who employs every time he sets up an ionic neutron stabiliser field. And, even two years after Up In The Air, the callous and mechanical procedure of laying off redundant personnel is still shocking (I've been made redundant twice over the years and in neither instance was it as heartless and unyielding as this). Worth a look.


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