Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Margin Call (2011) [R] ****

A New York City financial services firm is going through a mass layoff, as analysts Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), and trading desk head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) watch. On his way out the door, senior risk management specialist Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) tells Peter he hasn't completed an important study he's been working on, hands Peter a flash drive, and whispers Be careful. Late that night Peter completes the study, discovers that trading volatility has recently been exceeding the historical volatility levels used by the firm to calculate risk. Because of excessive leverage, if the value of the firm's assets in mortgage backed securities decreases by just 25%, the loss will be greater than the firm's market capitalization and it will be bankrupt.

Peter calls Seth and Will, and both return to the office where Peter explains the impending financial disaster. Trading manager Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has known about this risk for years, and has tried, unsuccessfully, to warn executives Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore). What follows is a long night of meetings, including one chaired by CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) as senior management decides on a plan to do whatever is necessary (basically lie, cheat and steal) to stave off disaster, regardless of the long-term damage to the firm's reputation, as well as to the individual careers of its employees.

This is a respectable film but it could have been a great one. First-time writer/director J.C. Chandor focuses on the interplay of the various personalities rather than on the technical aspects of leveraged trading in mortgage back securities. As a result, he does a barely adequate job of explaining how the firm got into this situation, and what the potential consequences are. Consequently, most viewers will not fully understand why the firm's management is so panicked, and more importantly, that failure to contain the damage could have an international ripple effect that could threaten the entire global financial system. 

[Blogger's rating: **** out of 5 stars.]

Labels: drama, finance, thriller
Internet Movie Database 
Metacritic 76/100 
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=73, viewers=74) 
Wikipedia: Margin Call (film)

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