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

Going into Margin Call, I expected to be at sea with much of the economic information about the speculation that led to the 2008 economic bust. Several times, characters in the film asked the risk management team the film centers on to explain to them what was happening in words that they would use with children. Yes, yes, I thought, explain it like that. Yet they never did. Such a rudimentary understanding of the situation was unfathomable to these guys at Lehman Brothers or Bear Stern or whatever the firm was. Despite this lack of a complete understanding, I thought Margin Call was a terrific film and I don’t care if I understood every financial nuance or not. At its heart, it was about people and way they are corrupted by the money flowing by them.

PLOT: A risk management employee (Tucci) at an unnamed firm sees something in his program that alarms him. This comes on the same day that large numbers of personnel are being let go—including him. He hands off his flash drive to a younger employee (Quinto) with dire warnings and the words. “Be careful,” The information on that flash drive eventually works its way to the top of the firm (Irons) and the outcome, the way it is handled, is just as egregious as the protestors from OCCUPY WALL STREET suggest.

What makes this film so compelling, beside the fact it’s largely true, is the way the story percolates from the bottom up and then down again. The acting is sublime. Kevin Spacey, who seems to suffer most from what goes down that day, has never been better. Where we expect there to be finger pointing in terms of fault, the film doesn’t bother with that. The fault is too widely shared for the scope of any film. Instead, this is a small and private look at what happened, conducted in narrow offices, over conference tables, in cars and front steps. Their lives take place in glass and steel edifices—there is no beating hearts allowed. My only complaint, and it is a slight one, is it occasionally plays too much like a Mamet play. Clearly Chandor has watched Glengarry Glen Ross more than once.

Highly recommended.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.