Home > Uncategorized > “No one here is smart enough – including the rocket scientist” Movie review of Margin Call

“No one here is smart enough – including the rocket scientist” Movie review of Margin Call

January 7, 2012

First, the trailer:

Margin Call is a drama about life inside a giant Wall Street trading firm during the 36 hours before the bottom fell through. Or more correctly the bottom already had fallen but only a small group of analysts knew it – and the question of whether to have their traders act on that information in the four or five hours before the rest of the planet figured it out.

And in fact the story feels more like a stage play than a blockbuster movie. There’s no violence and only a little music: everything is done with acting and dialog and directing. How you take 36 hours in the life of some characters, compress it down to 109 minutes, and in the process humanize them and give context to their actions I leave to people who understand literature.

Notice I said “humanize them”, not “excuse their actions”. Because, while it isn’t clear they could have done anything differently once things came to a head, there is a strong sense of consciously-made steps leading for years into disaster by brilliant people who knew better.  We are presented with a kind of moral nihilism possible only with tightrope-walking levels of balance and skill. Not by all the characters, to be sure – but by the most powerful ones.  The less-powerful characters sounded warnings, yes. In plenty of time to do something about it. It rings true because it echoes nearly every human-made catastrophe I have ever studied.

109 minutes. Highly recommended.

NOTES:

  • See also the documentaries;  Enron, the smartest guys in the room and (of more direct relevance to this film) Inside Job
  • There’s also a scene that will make you look at bridges a little differently from now on.
  • I said “moral nihilism” but on reflection, there’s as much fatalism as nihilism.
  • Update: I forgot to give credit to alert reader Chas who emailed me to recommend the film. Thanks Chas!
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  1. Ted
    January 9, 2012 at 17:35 | #1

    Humanize them?

    What if our natural state is one of asshattery?

    I refer you to my favorite flick: The Bicycle Thief. Or my second favorite film: Rashomon.

  2. January 9, 2012 at 21:05 | #2

    Thanks for the recommendation. I think I’ll try to see it.

  3. decrepadmin
    January 9, 2012 at 21:12 | #3

    Ted – I will have to get The Bicycle Thief. Have heard from others and now from you that it is a great movie.

    Our natural state may be one of asshattery, but we can try to be better. It’s usually worth making the effort.

    Paul – thanks! I must give credit to alert reader Chas who emailed me to recommend it.

  4. Chas, PE SE
    January 10, 2012 at 09:12 | #4

    G:

    You’re welcome. Great review.

    Ted: One of the most excellent things about this movie is that, although the characters are to one degree or another asshats, the writing and direction shows why. Kevin Spacy’s first line reveals much about his character, and his speech after the HE people leave reveals more.

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