Although the action takes place mostly over the course of a 24-hour period in the early days of the 2008 financial meltdown and is basically limited to locations in a large investment firm in full crisis mode, the film doesn't feel at all claustrophobic as it details the effects of damaging information unlocked by young hotshot analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto, a producer on the film) that could prove to be a death blow for the entire firm. Watching the people and the place come slowly unglued is one of the particular joys of Chandor's intriguing premise. And this cast socks it all home, brilliantly detailing the increasing level of corporate paranoia and doom.
As Will, the boss who initially gets the bad news from Peter, Bettany has never been better, playing a boozing guy who has to sober up to bad money news quickly. As Will's boss, Sam, Spacey plays the loyal company guy who is seeing his life fall apart in an instant, personally and professionally. The actor is especially vulnerable and touching in the role, particularly in scenes in which Sam is most concerned about his dog's failing health. A final scene is devastating. The devious cast of characters also includes the slick and soulless Jared Cohen, played with suave emptiness by Simon Baker, and Demi Moore's Sarah, the only female exec in the bunch and the one most likely not to know she's headed for her execution in this seismic financial meltdown. The top boss is acidly played by Irons with just the right amount of irony for a guy wielding an ax through his own reversal of fortune but smiling through it all. Quinto is superb, although his most interesting stuff is in the film's first third, when he gets the ball in motion, only to watch the place self-destruct as a result. Penn Badgley as his young counterpart and Tucci as a recently fired lifer whose computer file triggers this contained Wall Street apocalypse are also excellent.
"Margin Call" makes us uncomfortable, and you may squirm in your seats because, yes, this really could happen. In fact, it almost did, and inevitably will again.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker