“Margin Call,” a new Wall Street drama with an all-star cast including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore, deserved a better run at the theatres. Now on DVD and download, this overlooked movie of the beginning of our recent financial crisis has a compelling story and great acting but didn’t find an audience theatrically.
A fictionalized account of what may have happened at Lehman Brothers et al, “Margin Call” is set at a Wall Street firm following a brutal round of layoffs. Using information passed on by one of the outgoings execs an analyst, played by “Star Trek’s” Zachary Quinto, discovers that the firm is wildly overleveraged. Saving the company will affect not only the employees but the entire economy of the United States.
The way I have described it would sound melodramatic if it wasn’t bound so closely to fact and that’s the beauty of the movie. It takes complex financial transactions, dramatizes them and presents them in a way that makes sense and shines spotlight on the terrible mess the greed of these Wall Street firms caused.
But without great characters a movie solely about the crisis wouldn’t be necessary in the wake of Inside Job,” the Oscar winning documentary that covered pretty much the same ground.
Luckily “Margin Call” abounds with interesting characters even though doesn’t exactly avoid the stereotypical portrayal of Wall Street types—there is the de rigueur associate obsessed with his colleague’s pay cheques, the over indulgent CEOs. But despite its occasional typecasting, actors like Spacey, Tucci and Simon Baker imbue their characters with humanity, creating multi-layered people concerned with the ethics of what they are doing.
Perhaps “Margin Call” flopped because people don’t want to be reminded of the financial meltdown that left tens-of-thousands of Americans stuck with sub prime mortgages and made foreclosure signs the hottest landscaping feature of the 2008-2009 season. Perhaps it was because the star wattage of Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey wasn’t enough to put bums in seats. Whatever the reason, “Margin Call” remains a gem that will hopefully find its audience on the small screen.