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margin call
Click for full sized poster

Margin Call

Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
Written and Directed by J.C. Chandor

IN SHORT: way too dry for comfort

For those wondering how the current economic "recession" began, you are welcome to Margin Call. This film puts into fairly plain english the actions of a company of very rich people who, realizing that the worthless mortgages that they had packaged and resold as commodities . . .

I can see readers phasing out. If I understand it (and that's a big if): When you buy a share of stock, you buy a very small portion of a company. That's simple.

Commerical Banks, which had issued way too many mortgages to customers who should never have been allowed in the door, didn't want to be stuck with worthless "paper" (which is all a mortgage is, really. A piece of paper that is a promise to pay.) They sold the mortgages, to a company like the one we see in Margin Call.

That company packaged the mortgages into groups of say, ten or twenty or hundreds, and sold shares of those new "companies" as investments. You were buying stock based on the assumption that all the individual holders in each groupings would pay their debts.

The bigger problem, as seen in this film, is that the Company had made its sales based on a formula (that projected risk and potential reward -- they knew the potential profits from on time payments and losses if there were defaults and calculated share prices to give them a slice of profit from each stock sale).

All well and good, except for the work of a trader named (Stanley Tucci), who ran the numbers and figured out that the formula used by the company to calculate all that potential profit was flat out wrong. That the Company has assumed potential debts -- when they purchased the mortgages from the commercial banks -- with a value far in excess of the value of the Company.

In real people language, the company more than maxed out is credit cards. It's option, like the commercial banks before it, was to sell off as much of that potential debt before any other Company on Wall Street realized that (they) were on the losing end of a fire sale.

If the Economic Powers That Be had made a margin call on The Company -- the film's title is an options investment term that basically means "pay up or else," The Company would be destroyed. A handful of really rich people would be responsible for paying back all the debt held by The Company.

The last thing really rich people want to do is give any of their cash back.

What should turn your stomach is that the grunt traders at The Company stood to make a million dollars each for a really good day of sales. Our country's economy was wrecked by the eventual fall out from these actions. The film's re-creation of that day is as dry as our description of the background to The Event. It tries to give us real people a connection to the events via some low level (ie. non-trader) employees [Demi Moore] in a division called "risk management." It doesn't work.

We never developed any kind of taste for cinema veretie

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Margin Call, he would have paid . . .



The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.