Margin Call (2011) is a first-rate film.
It deals with what ensues in a large unnamed investment bank when a junior analyst discovers late one evening in 2008 that the value of the bank’s holdings of mortgage-backed securities has wandered dangerously outside the range of mathematical models of the values that it should have, and that the size of the potential losses is so huge that it could bankrupt the entire institution.
The film tracks events over the next twenty-four hours as this information goes up the chain of command all the way to the chief executive, triggering a series of meetings at higher and higher levels that run through the night and into the dawn, as everyone tries to figure out what to do before the news of this disaster becomes widely known in the financial industry and destroys the company.
In the process, it reveals the thinking and mode of operation of the various players in investment banks, from the junior to the highest levels, the role of money, how people’s allegiance and silence is bought, and how some people are ruthlessly sacrificed so that others may profit, all done calmly and urbanely.
This world is unknown to me since I have never worked in such institutions but I have to say that from what I have read on the financial crises and kinds of people involved, the story and characters seem utterly plausible.
The film keeps you intensely interested even though there is little physical action or even any shouting. It is all talk, low-key and understated, but it shows how a film can deal with serious issues and still be engrossing. What it takes is that it be well-written, well-directed, and well-acted.
Here’s the trailer.