'Margin Call' Sheds Light On Wall Street Meltdown

Oct 21, 2011


RENEE MONTAGNE, host: The global financial crisis of 2008 has a lot of dramatic potential. It propelled the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job" and HBO's movie "Too Big To Fail." Now comes "Margin Call," in theaters this weekend. Kenneth Turan has a review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Margin Call" brings us into the inner sanctum of a top Wall Street investment banking firm in peril. The film opens on what everyone in the firm thinks – erroneously, as it turns out - will be the worst part of their day. A team from human resources arrives intent on terminating folks.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (As character) Mr. Dale, these are extraordinary times, as you very well must know.

STANLEY TUCCI: (As Eric Dale) I don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: The majority of this floor is being let go today.

TURAN: Among those let go is a risk analyst played by Stanley Tucci. He hands a flash drive full of information to his entry-level assistant.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Eric, I'm very sorry.

TUCCI: (As Eric Dale) I was working on something, but they wouldn't let me finish it. So take a look at it. Be careful.

TURAN: That warning is necessary. It turns out that the firm is so over-committed to risky real estate loans that it owes more money than the company is worth. That information works its way up the corporate food chain in the dead of night.

Some of the best confrontations are between the CEO, gorgeously played by Jeremy Irons as a combination of genuine charm and complete ruthlessness, and Kevin Spacey as a key executive.


KEVIN SPACEY: (As Sam Rogers) The real question is, who are we selling this to?

JEREMY IRONS: (As John Tuld) Same people we've been selling it to the last two years. And whoever else will buy it.

SPACEY: And you're selling something that you know has no value.

IRONS: We are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price.

TURAN: "Margin Call" lets us know that more than greed is involved in these high-level confrontations. There is also loyalty to the firm and even a sense of morality.

Writer-director J.C. Chandor's facility for sharp dialogue, for language that echoes the way talk is talked when doors are closed, was honestly earned. He grew up with a father who worked for Merrill Lynch for close to 40 years. Tucci, Spacey and Irons are a dream team of actors who show it's possible to play hardball without raising your voice. Even if you think you know all there is to know about how Wall Street plays its games, "Margin Call" will open your eyes.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.