One look at the cast of this movie and you feel like you are guaranteed to see a great film...I mean, look at all those heavy hitters from Kevin Spacey to Jeremy Freakin' Irons! Would the story be able to hold up its end of the bargain and deliver material worthy of all this talent or would their skills be wasted on a bland, boring, and soon to be forgotten tale? First, I will tell you a bit about the story before you decide if it is worthy of your attention.
The beginning of the movie is very reminiscent of George Clooney's "Up in the Air" and the underlying theme of how corporate layoffs are handled. Margin Call takes a look at this from the other side of the conference room table as we see massive layoffs unfold at a large investment bank. In the middle of this, we find Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) taking his turn at receiving his walking papers, a severance package, and "what-to-do-next" packet. Little do the corporate heads above him know that, as head of risk management, he had been working on a project that would desperately need their attention.
After Eric's pleas to let him finish this task are pretty much ignored, he literally places his work (via memory stick) in the hands of Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), one of the employees he helped to train, knowing that he may be the only one with the ability to finish and decipher his calculations and formulas. Over the course of the first two acts, and as Peter solves the puzzle, we see that the investment bank has stretched itself out quite a bit farther than it should and the proverbial house of cards is about to come crashing down.
This information quickly go up the chain of command until the eventual executive board meeting is called where John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), who is the head of the soon to be flailing company, reigns everyone in and implements a plan of action meant to save the company from the same disaster it is about to create. Here is where the audience gets the idea that this isn't just happening to this bank, which is never given an actual name, but is something that is widespread and about to bring about another cyclical crash in the overall financial markets.
At this point in my review, I have to compare my last three paragraphs to how the movie as a whole plays out. Slow and methodical with lots of information. There are no scenes of people running around creating and/or preventing chaos and there are also no fiercely intense debates, arguments, or fighting. The entire movie is both interesting and engaging ( I never once thought to check the time) although the pacing is very deliberate which seemed to have some audience members losing interest here and there.
The most entertaining piece of this film is the role Jeremy Irons plays simply because it is him playing the part. Everyone here is very well cast in their roles, but to have Mr. Irons playing the leader of a company that demands a presence both engaging and intimidating is just perfect. He is able to own the screen even when surrounded by such a highly respected cast and you really feel his performance more than anyone else.
Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany manage to bring that same balance of hard nosed leadership while still portraying their characters as people that, other than their vast piles of money, you can actually relate to. I was hoping Zachary Quinto would have had more to do here, but he really wasn't given much to work with. It was very disappointing to get so little from someone who brought life and charisma to both his portrayal of Spock in Star Trek as well as the psychotic mutant Sylar from the Heroes TV show.
Overall, this movie should be seen simply for the quality of actors involved in the project and also because it gives some insight to why the world is now in the financial mess it finds itself in. There is a line in the movie that was very striking and really pinned down one of the major issues we, as people, deal with when it comes to economics. I will try to recall it in paraphrase as best I can below.
Money has no meaning, it is nothing but pieces of paper that are meant to keep us from having to kill each other just to get something to eat. - John Tuld