Saturday, November 16, 2013
(October 2011, U.S.)
Before I even get into what may be considered the best movie about Wall Street ever made, I want you to first take a look at this picture of one of its stars, Zachary Quinto (you sci-fi geeks may know him best as Spock in the current STAR TREK movie re-boots)...
Taken a good look? Okay, now I want you to take another good look at this picture of my younger brother, Kevin...
People, I kid you not! Although one is smiling and one is not and both hair styles are a bit different, it's the same eyes, same eye brows, same facial structures, same ears, same body hair, etc.! I see it, my mother and father see it, my family sees it, my friends see it, my brother's partner sees it, my in-laws see it, my seven year-old son sees it and even fucking KEVIN sees it! The only one who refuses to see it is my wife! Somebody please talk to the woman because she damned well won't listen to me!
(okay, now that THAT'S out of my system...)
Released in the Fall of 2011, it's hard to imagine that it had only been about three years since our entire economy collapsed into oblivion in what could only be closely compared to the legendary market crash of October 1929. What MARGIN CALL forces the viewer who remembers that time well is to envision and imagine the late night meetings that must have taken place between the corrupt and not-so-corrupt "powers that be" of Wall Street just before the shit all came down while the rest of America's working class citizens slept peacefully in their beds, completely unaware of what was about to happen to them and their financial world. This film takes place over a 36-hour period at a large Wall Street investment bank (supposedly based on firms like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns) and highlights the initial stages of the financial crisis that took place in 2007 and 2008. The film focuses on the actions taken by a small group of employees during the subsequent financial collapse and the less-than honorable action they'll take to save the future of their firm.
When the film begins, you already get that sick feeling in your senses because you're watching an unannounced mass layoff taking place at the start of an otherwise normal business day. It makes you uneasy because you already know from history what this sort of action was all about and how much worse it got after that. Perhaps you were one who got laid off yourself (I did!). Now I had to research this a bit, and I'll be damned if I understand one word of it, but as Zachary Quinto's character, Peter Sullivan, discovers it, the current volatility in the firm's portfolio of mortgage backed securities is about to exceed the historical volatility levels of the positions at the firm. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm's assets decrease by twenty-five percent in value, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalization. He also discovers that, given the normal length of time that the firm holds such securities, this loss must inevitably occur. Ultimately, the firm's plan is to very quickly sell all of the "toxic" assets before the market learns of their worthlessness, thereby limiting the firm's exposure, a course favored by all involved except by Sam Rogers (played by Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors of today!). He caves in though, and before the markets opens the next day, Rogers tells his traders they'll receive seven-figure bonuses if they achieve a ninety-three percent reduction in certain asset classes in a "fire sale". He admits that the traders are effectively ending their careers by destroying their relationships with their clients, but it appears that this is the only way the firm will survive this financial holocaust. And like many of us who already lived through the actual event, we know that the rich got richer and most of the rest of us got royally fucked! For myself, I was out of work for several months, but thanks to my wife's employment and non-panicking, cool heads all around, we managed to survive the turmoil without losing anything or borrowing money from anybody...thank goodness!
Getting back to something I mentioned earlier, and with all due respect to the great Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas, MARGIN CALL achieves a victory in portraying the fears and actions of Wall Street in a far superior, yet more subtle manner than both WALL STREET films. It's very smart, tightly bound, thought-provoking and solidly acted by some great talents (even Demi Moore!). As viewers, we know from history what's about to happen and how bad it really was. But as I also previously mentioned, it's strange to think about all the things we didn't know before the shit came down. How many meetings, how many discussions, how many immoral and illegal plans of action took place in the night while we remained completely unaware of what was about to happen to us? Such is history, I suppose. Such is life. It's happened before. It'll happen again. In the meantime, it's much easier to watch it on film than to experience it yourself.
Oh, and note to my brother Kevin - start taking acting classes now! Sooner or later Zachary Quinto may need an understudy or a stand-in and you'll want to be ready! Just sayin'!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Peter Sullivan: "Look at these people. Wandering around with absolutely no idea what's about to happen."