J.C. Chandor’s debut feature film Margin Call (2011) is impressive for many reasons, most notably the calibre of actors that the director has managed to attract including Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Paul Bettany. It is not just the star performances that make this film tremendously entertaining, but also the gripping story and the topicality of the subject matter – the current global economic crisis that began in 2008.
The story is set over a 24 hour period in a high profile investment bank. Following his dismissal in the opening scenes of the film, Eric Dale (Tucci) hands a USB stick to junior colleague Peter Sullivan (Quinto) who discovers some shocking facts about the financial health of the company. The plot, whilst not a direct retelling of actual events, forms a pastiche of all the horror stories of corporate banking that we have become so familiar with. The approach is not only to tell the story of the early stages of the economic crisis, but to create sympathetic, human characters that are not just faceless corporate cut-outs.
Chandor wrote the script as well as directing, and at times it shows that this is his first feature. Whilst noble in its motivations, Margin Call is occasionally clumsy – particularly in a scene focusing on Tucci’s Eric, wherein he babbles on about building efficient road systems and how he just wanted to save the world moments after being fired. However, this over-egging of the political pudding is tolerable given the gripping, entertaining nature of the film’s high drama.
The cinematography and settings look clean and crisp, juxtaposing clinical office spaces with the bustle of the expansive city below via a number of beautiful, nighttime skyline shots. Yet Chandor is often overly-heavy on the visual metaphors, the most obvious being two bankers talking across a cleaner in a lift without noticing her. Chandor is at times fortunate to have such a talented cast, all of whom provide strong performances.
Whilst Margin Call is entertaining, it has all the tell-tale signs of a slightly nervous debut feature – Chandor’s screenplay and direction are both promising, but it would be interesting to muse on what he could have done with a lesser-known cast.