Monday, November 28, 2011

Jason watches MARGIN CALL

It's a pretty daunting task to make complicated financial transactions dramatic. Even more daunting to make the ethical implications of complex financial transactions dramatic. But damned if they didn't pull it off, even if I couldn't understand most of it. Here are the important bits--after a massive round of layoffs at an investment bank, including a significant part of the risk management group, young whiz-kid Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) stays late working on what his laid off boss (Stanley Tucci) was working on. Late at night, he calls his colleague and new boss (old boss' boss) in from their night at the bar, and shows them something that leads to an escalating series of meetings all through the night. Turns out, their models relied on volatility of their investments (specifically, mortgages) staying within normal bounds--historical ranges plus some margin. Problem is a) if the volatility strays outside those bounds, they could lose more money than the entire company is worth, and b) it's strayed outside of those bounds several times in the last two weeks. So after these late night meetings, resulting in 3-4 more layers of executive management coming in (culminating in a brilliant turn by Jeremy Irons), they decide to dump the troublesome holdings (for the record, I don't think the term "toxic asset" is ever actually used). Turns out, it's pretty clear that other firms are doing the same thing, and it's only a matter of time before they find out how much trouble their in. The shit is going to hit the fan, and it's best to be the first one flinging it. So after quite a bit of ethical dilemmas (Kevin Spacey does a fine job outlining exactly how this will kill a lot of their young traders' careers, as well as dump worthless crap on the buyers), the financial collapse of 2008 begins.

Excellent job of humanizing the characters, while also showing some of them (particular Paul Bettany's character) to be particularly monstrously unsympathetic humans. I particularly liked Stanley Tucci's character reminiscing about how he used to be an engineer and how he built a bridge that saved so many people so many miles/hours of commute time. It doesn't just show how he misses honest work. And it doesn't just show how after the initial shock he has come to terms (or is even kind of relieved) with being laid off. It also shows his incredible facility for doing arithmetic in his head.

Running Time: 107 minutes
My Total Minutes: 257,916

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