Margin Call25 Jan 2016
Margin Call is a film about the financial crisis that takes a big risk, focuses only on one night, only on one firm, only on a handful of key players. It hardly mentions the millions of American people who were affected by the actions of these characters. For many this would be a disqualifying choice - how can you make a film about a housing crisis that doesn’t show a single middle-American home owner, a single blue collar job lost, or any of the havoc that these financiers caused. To me, however, this is exactly why this film was successful. JC Chandor chose a small slice of a large and confusing episode in American history, he wrote a story about only a few characters and “dumbed things down” so as to fit the needs of a 2 hour film.
Unlike The Big Short which made arguably the opposite choices, to focus on a multiple unconnected characters, to depict foreclosed homes, (passingly) show a family who lost their job and home and throw the viewer into many details about the financial crisis, Margin Call succeeds due to its discipline.
Margin Call is also a great depiction of the prototypical characters who make up the finance industry - a 22 year old junior analyst obsessed with how much everyone makes, a rocket scientists disillusioned with academia, a former engineer who gave up building bridges, management minded ladder climbers, and powerful CEOs and board members charged with maximizing profits at all costs. Each of their attempts at justifying what their industry does (bring liquidity to the market, do the work that regular Americans don’t want to do, make their dreams possible) fall flat. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand this industry and everyone who has attempted to explain its importance to me has failed at convincing me, and I’m afraid, in reality, is not so convinced themselves.