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It may have happened something like this. "Margin Call" depicts the last night of good times on Wall Street, as a deadly certainty travels up the executive ladder at an investment firm: Disastrous speculation in the mortgage markets is leading to the firm's collapse. We can still recall those days in the summer of 2008, during the Obama-McCain campaign, when America seemed awash in prosperity, and the stock market was setting records. Then one firm after another was forced to declare bankruptcy, the nation's economic structure was threatened, and Congress ponied up its huge bailout.

"Margin Call" begins on a day at an unnamed investment firm that must certainly have an inkling of what's coming, since 80 percent of the work force is laid off. One of the victims is Eric ( Stanley Tucci ), a senior risks analyst who like many of his colleagues was incapable of seeing that the real estate market was built as a house of cards. Although writer-director J.C. Chandor's film has sympathy for most of its characters, it is important to remember that they all felt they had to play along with the deals that were bringing their firms such huge profits and bonuses.

On his way out the door, Eric slips a USB drive to Peter ( Zachary Quinto ), a younger analyst who wasn't fired. There's information on it that disturbs him. So it should. While the office is empty, and the survivors are out partying to celebrate not being fired, Peter realizes the firm and the market are clearly trembling on the brink. He contacts his supervisor, Will ( Paul Bettany ), who takes one look and calls his boss, Sam ( Kevin Spacey ). Others are called in for an all-night emergency meeting until at dawn as a helicopter brings in CEO John Tuld ( Jeremy Irons ).

You don't need to understand a lot about the markets to follow the film. John is a cool, polished Brit who likes to say things like, "Speak to me in plain terms," because his job requires him to manage the corporation but not necessarily understand its business. Indeed, as we now know, a fresh young college graduate could have looked at the balance sheets and clearly seen Wall Street was doomed.

It is up to John to make the margin call. In other words, to order his company to start dumping worthless holdings before the word spread that they are worthless — essentially, betraying their customers. It has now been established that some firms created hedge funds intended to fail, so they could make money betting against them. These they sold to their customers knowing they were worthless.

I think the movie is about how its characters are concerned only by the welfare of their corporations. There is no larger sense of the public good. Corporations are amoral, and exist to survive and succeed, at whatever human cost. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are angry about: They are not against capitalism, but about Wall Street dishonesty and greed.

"Margin Call" employs an excellent cast who can make financial talk into compelling dialogue. They also can reflect the enormity of what is happening: Their company and their lives are being rendered meaningless. This scenario was enacted at many Wall Street institutions on the autumn of 2008, and fundamental financial reform is still being opposed. No particular firm is named, but doesn't it seem to you that the name of the Jeremy Irons character, "John Tuld," has an echo of Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehman Brothers, who collected enormous bonuses for leading his company into bankruptcy?

Irons is sly in the role, a man who knows his own financial stability is unassailable, who considers his job as an amoral exercise, who has made it to the top by not particularly caring about people. A great corporate executive must have a strain of ruthlessness. I also admired Kevin Spacey, who projects incisive intelligence in his very manner, and Demi Moore , as a senior executive who has risen to just below the glass ceiling and knows she will stay there.

The physical world of the film itself is effective. It's all glass, steel and protocol, long black cars and executive perks, luxurious lifestyles paid for with what was inescapably fraud. One of the characters has a sick dog. The dog is the only creature in the entire film that anyone likes.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Film credits.

Margin Call movie poster

Margin Call (2011)

Rated R for language

107 minutes

Kevin Spacey as Sam Rogers

Paul Bettany as Will Emerson

Jeremy Irons as John Tuld

Zachary Quinto as Peter Sullivan

Penn Badgley as Seth Bregman

Simon Baker as Jared Cohen

Mary McDonnell as Mary Rogers

Demi Moore as Sarah Robertson

Stanley Tucci as Eric Dale

Written and directed by

  • J.C. Chandor

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Margin call, common sense media reviewers.

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Thoughtful Wall Street drama has drinking, language.

Margin Call Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

In a time of financial crisis, these characters ge

Sam Rogers is arguably the most responsible charac

Occasional arguing.

A brief scene takes place in a fancy bar, where wa

Very strong, fairly frequent language includes mul

A McDonald's "M" (golden arches) is visible twice

Characters smoke and drink constantly. One charact

Parents need to know that the biggest issue of concern in this dramatic thriller set on the eve of a huge Wall Street market crash is language. Characters liberally use "f--k," "s--t," and other strong words throughout the drama. They also drink and smoke frequently, seemingly as a response to stress. There's a brief…

Positive Messages

In a time of financial crisis, these characters generally disagree on the right thing to do. Some of the characters appear to lean toward self-preservation at others' expense. But many of the main characters doubt this path, even though it's not clear exactly what they should do.

Positive Role Models

Sam Rogers is arguably the most responsible character; he argues against the self-preservation action that the firm's leaders want to take. But in the end, he loses the argument and ends up going with the company.

Violence & Scariness

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

A brief scene takes place in a fancy bar, where waitresses are seen wearing sexy outfits while serving. One character mentions the amount of money he's spent on hookers.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Very strong, fairly frequent language includes multiple uses of "f--k," as well as "Jesus Christ," "s--t," "ass," and single uses of "p---y," "c--t," and "t-ts."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

A McDonald's "M" (golden arches) is visible twice during an aerial view of the city. A bottle of Snapple brand water is visible on a desk. Nicorette gum is mentioned by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke and drink constantly. One character frantically chews Nicorette gum but succumbs to having a real cigarette from time to time. Other characters smoke the occasional cigarette as well. One character drinks heavily throughout the night, swigging from a bottle in a paper bag. Main characters are seen drinking in a bar.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the biggest issue of concern in this dramatic thriller set on the eve of a huge Wall Street market crash is language. Characters liberally use "f--k," "s--t," and other strong words throughout the drama. They also drink and smoke frequently, seemingly as a response to stress. There's a brief scene in a fancy bar with sexy waitresses in skimpy clothes, and some brand names are visible from time to time. Despite all this, the movie is thoughtful and patient -- though teens may not be interested in the subject matter. But those who are could learn a bit about the ins and outs of recent Wall Street history. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (3)
  • Kids say (2)

Based on 3 parent reviews

Compelling drama about inside of Wall St firms

Gripping corporate thriller for adults and older/mature teens, what's the story.

In 2008, a Wall Street firm carries out a round of layoffs. One of the men to lose his job is Eric Dale ( Stanley Tucci ); he has discovered that the risky portfolios the company has been dealing with have stretched things too thin and that a huge crash is imminent. He leaves his findings with a young broker, Peter Sullivan ( Zachary Quinto ); by the middle of the night, all of the company's head honchos are sitting in tense meetings, trying to figure out what to do: protect the public interest or save their own jobs.

Is It Any Good?

J.C. Chandor makes his feature writing and directing debut here, and it's a very strong effort, suggesting a huge talent on the rise. MARGIN CALL is sometimes like a theatrical play, taking place on limited sets over a limited timeframe, with plenty of well-written, well-delivered monologues and dialogue. The plus side of this is that the movie gets some amazingly good performances from a wide range of actors, including Demi Moore , Simon Baker , Paul Bettany , and especially Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey (the latter has by far the richest role).

Chandor also throws in some remarkable little touches here and there that no stage play could get at, such as a young broker ditching his bottle of alcohol just before entering a conference room, or a cleaning lady overhearing some vague but tense details of the night's drama. This is a quiet, thoughtful little movie that teens with an interest in national affairs will find highly impressive and hauntingly memorable.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the way in which many of the characters drink alcohol and smoke , as if out of necessity. Are the characters enjoying their drinks and cigarettes? What are the other reasons they could be smoking and drinking so much? What are some healthier ways to respond to stress?

Does the movie have a clear message? Does it have a clear hero? What would have been the right thing to do in this situation?

What do stock brokers actually do, according to the movie? Why do they bring in such big paychecks?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : October 21, 2011
  • On DVD or streaming : December 20, 2011
  • Cast : Kevin Spacey , Paul Bettany , Zachary Quinto
  • Director : J.C. Chandor
  • Inclusion Information : Gay actors
  • Studio : Roadside Attractions
  • Genre : Drama
  • Run time : 105 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : language
  • Last updated : April 22, 2024

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Margin Call Review

Margin Call

13 Jan 2012

107 minutes

Margin Call

At one point during the long night of the soul that makes up Margin Call, Jeremy Irons’ Tuld, the vampiric head of a tottering investment bank, observes, “There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter or cheat.” A prescient mantra for the current business age, the purity of the sentiment encapsulates the scalpel-like precision that J. C. Chador’s debut picks over the carcass of modern greed. Part thriller, part horror, part workplace tragi-comedy, all cautionary tale, this is a sharp film about sharp men (and Demi Moore) in sharp suits that makes Wall Street: 2 look like amped-up panto.

With its study of bruising machismo in tight spaces revealed through vital verbiage, Margin Call owes more than a debt to David Mamet in general and Glengarry Glen Ross in particular. But Chandor’s dialogue has none of Mamet’s grandstanding. Instead, the talk is terse, but the coolness with which they discuss nuclear options — dump all their mortgage bundles before the market realises they’re worthless but risk ruining their credibility forever — rings frighteningly true.

Chandor’s screenplay charts Sullivan’s seismic findings up the company ladder, each embodied by a terrific performance; from cynical foot soldier (Paul Bettany) to head trader (Kevin Spacey) to potential fall gal (Demi Moore) to Irons’ CEO. This superb ensemble only get quietly fractious meetings and harried phone calls to establish character, but everyone registers. It is Zachary Quinto (adding another great logician to his CV) and Stanley Tucci who propel the first half, and Spacey and the charming-but-scary Irons who dominate the second. Spacey, in particular, is great, adding a gentility to his normal acid-smart persona — his grieving for his dying dog may be an obvious metaphor, but Spacey makes it affecting.

There is a nice running gag that the higher up the chain of command we go, the weaker their command of financial mumbo-jumbo is. As much as it is about finance, it is also great on office politicking, from the agonies of mass redundancies to the etiquette of corporate hierarchies. It doesn’t shy from exposing avarice and moral myopia but this neither condemns nor glorifies the barbarians. Instead it humanises them, to such an extent it might turn your hatred of the one per cent into pity.

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Margin Call

Where to watch.

Rent Margin Call on Fandango at Home, Prime Video, or buy it on Fandango at Home, Prime Video.

What to Know

Smart, tightly wound, and solidly acted, Margin Call turns the convoluted financial meltdown of '08 into gripping, thought-provoking drama.

Critics Reviews

Audience reviews, cast & crew.

J.C. Chandor

Kevin Spacey

Paul Bettany

Will Emerson

Jeremy Irons

Zachary Quinto

Peter Sullivan

Penn Badgley

Seth Bregman

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Margin Call starring Kevin Spacey

Margin Call – review

W riter-director JC Chandor's tense whitecollar drama is a sober corrective to what can only be described as Hollywood's "Gordon Gekko" approach to high finance: ie, making it notionally horrible, but still insisting on how super-sexy and exciting it is really. This film is inspired by the 2008 meltdown, and set in a fictional, embattled trading firm carrying out brutal layoffs. One of the victims is middle-aged financial analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) who, before being escorted out of the building, bequeaths top-secret research to young brainiac Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), revealing that due to its toxic assets, the whole firm could go entirely bankrupt at any moment. Icily resolute top brass, played by Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey and a splendidly leonine Jeremy Irons, convene an all-night crisis meeting to decide on ruthless measures to protect their own wealth. Perhaps nothing in the film quite compares to the horrid chill of the early sacking scene, but this is a shrewd and confident drama. Spacey is watchable as the veteran trading boss, in a state of near-breakdown, who discovers all too late that he has a kind of conscience.

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  • Kevin Spacey

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One Good Thing: 107 minutes of Wall Street traders behaving badly

Help, I can’t stop rewatching this 11-year-old corporate thriller nobody saw in theaters.

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A still from the film Margin Call, featuring Demi Moore and Simon Baker.

I think it was on my third or fourth viewing of Margin Call , the 2011 corporate thriller starring Zachary Quinto and Jeremy Irons, that I realized I finally understood Grateful Dead fans.

I was of course familiar with the Dead; I grew up across the river from Vermont. I thought they were just … fine. “Friend of the Devil” was a fun song. Cherry Garcia is an okay ice cream flavor. But why did a band so average-seeming, so unexceptional to me, inspire such a dedicated fanbase? Why would people follow them around, spending thousands of dollars producing and trading bootlegs of their favorite live sets?

I feel about Margin Call the way Deadheads feel about the Dead. Everyone thinks this movie is a fairly routine, not particularly notable drama. Most people don’t get the obsessive, fanatical love I have for it. This must be the Deadheads’ struggle: confusion and frustration that the whole world hasn’t fallen as rapturously in love with the art they love so much. Around the moment that Quinto takes out his headphones and realizes the bank where he works is in desperate, desperate trouble, it clicked for me.

Deadheads sometimes talk about the “X factor” : the indescribable aspect of a performance that elevates it to a higher level. There are certainly aspects of my love for Margin Call that are similarly difficult to put into words. At some level, either you find Jeremy Irons telling Quinto to “speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that brought me here,” to be funny, or you don’t.

But to a large degree, my love for Margin Call boils down to it being the one film that, more than any other, seems to understand the modern workplace (or at least the office workplace), and the moral compromises involved in living and thriving in that world.

Some introductory Margin notes

A still of Zachary Quinto and Seth Bregman wearing shirts and ties in Margin Call.

In case you aren’t already a diehard Marginalist: Margin Call chronicles a day in the life of an investment bank at the outset of the financial crisis of 2008. Conditions are rough from the start; the film begins with Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), the head of risk management at the firm, getting booted in the latest round of layoffs. Before leaving the building, Dale tosses a flash drive to his protégé, the erstwhile rocket scientist Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). His last words, as the elevator closes, are “be careful.” It doesn’t take long for Sullivan to dive into Dale’s spreadsheet and realize that if the firm’s mortgage-backed investments fall in value by even a modest amount, it could bankrupt the company.

Sullivan freaks out and tells his boss, Will Emerson (a wonderfully sardonic Paul Bettany), who freaks out and tells his boss, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who grudgingly tells his much-younger boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), who finally calls in the firm’s CEO John Tuld for a 4 am meeting. Portrayed with remarkable charisma and menace by Jeremy Irons, Tuld decides how to deal with the toxic assets, which he describes as “the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism.” His decision is astonishing, and his colleagues immediately realize what it means. The rest of the film chronicles their attempt to come to terms with it all.

This does not sound like the most riveting of material. And as I have learned the hard way, after forcing various friends and loved ones to watch it with me, Margin Call is not for everyone. It belongs to the micro-genre that the writer Max Read memorably labeled “halogencore” : It and peers like Michael Clayton , The Assistant , Shattered Glass , and Moneyball are thrillers set in offices, where the drama is fueled by white-collar misconduct or incompetence, and where the characters grow by learning something new about the bureaucracy to which they’ve given a portion of their lives.

Movies like that, much like all mid-budget dramas meant for adults and not featuring superheroes , are hard to get made these days. But they scratch a very particular itch. They thrive on specificity, on the norms and jargon of a particular institution. Margin Call ’s dialogue (“the standard VAR model,” “go block by block,” “we’re fill or kill at 65”) approaches the spy cant of John Le Carré in its density. But writer-director J.C. Chandor assumes the viewer is smart and a quick learner, and can grasp what they need to grasp. Like the Grateful Dead, he’s here for the superfans first and foremost.

The banality of greed

Jeremy Irons in a still from Margin Call.

Chandor’s script is obsessed with the moral implications of white-collar work, and specifically how workers cope with and adapt to those implications. Some become self-loathing, even self-pitying, like the Spacey and Tucci characters; the latter waxes nostalgic about his prior career as a structural engineer, building bridges that helped actual people, rather than shuffling numbers around. Some come up with grandiose self-rationalizations for why what they’re doing either doesn’t matter (“It’s just money ,” Irons’s character says, “it’s made up ”) or is somehow helping the middle class (“If people want to live like this, in their cars and the big fucking houses they can’t even pay for, then you’re necessary,” Bettany admonishes a younger colleague).

This, to me, is the main attraction of Margin Call . It’s a movie that takes work — office work, people sitting at desks typing stuff into laptops — seriously, as an activity with moral significance. And what sets it apart from other films, even some other halogencore films, is that the moral questions it asks are about the work itself, not some extreme violation outside that work’s code of ethics. Shattered Glass is about a reporter making up stories out of whole cloth; Michael Clayton is about a corporation hiring hitmen to murder potential whistleblowers as part of a coverup.

The choice that CEO John Tuld (Irons) makes in the middle of Margin Call , by contrast, is not a crime. When someone raises the prospects of “the feds” stopping the move, executive Ramesh Shah (Aasif Mandvi), implied to be a lawyer, pushes back: “They can slow you down. They can’t stop you.” This is a choice they can make in the course of doing business. It’s just part of being a banker. And it will hurt many, many people.

Margin Call is suffused with small moments showing how this ethos corrupts the people who embrace it. At one point, Peter Sullivan (Quinto) and his younger colleague Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) are at a strip club, looking for Eric Dale (Tucci). Bregman immediately starts speculating about how much the dancers make in a night. Will Emerson (Bettany) tells Sullivan and Bregman that he made $2.5 million in a year, but it wasn’t that great, because “you learn to spend what’s in your pocket.” Sam Rogers (Spacey) clearly thinks of himself as the man in the room with a real conscience, but it never occurs to him that the firm’s actions might destroy the career of his son at another bank. The firm comes before his own child.

These men (and apart from an underutilized Demi Moore, they’re all men) have seen themselves warped, in ways large and small, by their work, by work for which they are paid obscene amounts and which they have no intention of ever stopping.

Toward the end of the film, Rogers is giving a pep talk to a room of traders, “People are going to say some very nasty things about what we do here today, and about what you’ve dedicated a portion of your lives to,” he tells them. “But have faith that in the bigger picture, our skills have not been wasted. We have accomplished much, and our talents have been used for the greater good.” This is a man doing something he knows is wrong, and not just that but wielding his power to make dozens of other people do something he knows is wrong. The brilliance of the movie is its illustration of why he, and so many like him, make that choice, again and again and again.

Margin Call is available to stream on Netflix and Hulu . For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.

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November 16, 2011 On Screen » Movie+TV Reviews

Margin Call 

Movie review.

Published November 16, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.

TAKING STOCK Spacey plays an investment banker torn  between company loyalty and personal ethics in J.C. Chandor’s dramatic Wall Street indictment.

  • TAKING STOCK Spacey plays an investment banker torn between company loyalty and personal ethics in J.C. Chandor’s dramatic Wall Street indictment.

Coincidentally, I watched an award screener of Contagion just before running out to catch Margin Call and was unsettled by the number of eerie parallels between the two pictures. No fooling: I kept expecting Jude Law or Matt Damon to walk into the offices of the film’s fictional investment firm.

The feature debut of 37-year-old writer-director J.C. Chandor (whose father worked at Merrill Lynch for 40 years), the movie traces the current economic crisis back to the moment of its 2008 Wall Street outbreak. Imagine Inside Job adapted for the screen by David Mamet, and you’ve got the general idea.

As the picture opens, a battalion of drones straight out of Up in the Air floods the glistening corporate digs of a powerful 107-year-old investment bank and proceeds to downsize the hell out of it. Some employees are saddened, others relieved, but everyone behaves as though the bloodbath is business as usual.

But, as Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) points out after he’s instructed to pack up his things, gutting the risk assessment division of a financial institution probably isn’t the brightest move. As he’s escorted to the elevator, Dale slips a flash drive to a young analyst named Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and warns him to “be careful.”

Later that evening, Sullivan pops the thing in to his computer. What he discovers prompts him to summon his new boss (Paul Bettany), who in turn summons his superior (Kevin Spacey), who does the same, until it’s 4 a.m. and the company’s brain trust is assembled before Jeremy Irons. He plays CEO and Prince of Darkness John Tuld (an echo of Richard Fuld, who made half a billion dollars leading Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy).

“Speak to me as you would a small child,” Tuld invites Sullivan, “or a golden retriever.” (One of the film’s running jokes is that the higher on the chain of command these people are, the less they seem to understand the business that’s making them millions.) Quinto’s character presents a computer model projecting that the bank’s aggressive position in the subprime mortgage market has already doomed it — most of its assets have lost so much of their value that losses will soon exceed the company’s worth.

This is when Chandor serves the meat of the movie. Hard decisions must be made. A head or two must roll. His script doesn’t stop to flesh out its characters, who are busy until dawn batting around one essential question: Should the firm take its medicine, or attempt to save itself by unloading its toxic holdings to clients, thereby contaminating the market with financial time bombs?

My sense is the filmmaker could have moved the last two acts along more briskly, as everyone knows what happens next. The film’s attraction lies not in suspense, but in the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the dynamics of a global powerhouse, and the ethical wrestling match that ensues in such a situation.

Some of the responses we observe are more convincing than others. Despite the many glowing reviews it has received, I found Spacey’s performance as the company’s Official Conflicted Bigwig contrived. Demi Moore adds little to her filmography playing a top executive whose inscrutability may simply be the result of too much Botox. Tucci, as always, is a joy to behold. Unfortunately, he’s afforded minimal screen time.

Which leaves Irons in yet another scene-chewing role as a privileged bloodsucker. A titan of finance who descends by helicopter in the dead of night to assess the damage and devise the most expedient means of passing it along, his character is the movie’s most credible creation. This member of the 1 percent can’t be bothered by something as mundane as a financial apocalypse for the average Joe; he may be worth a billion or two less the next day, but stays fabulously unruffled. As though he knows the bailout check is already in the mail.

* Theaters and Showtimes

* Running time: 107 min.

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The Ending Of Margin Call Explained

Sam Rogers looking concerned in board room

The 2011 financial thriller "Margin Call” explores the origins of the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. Caused in large part by the boom-and-bust of the U.S. housing market in the early-to-mid 2000s, as well as investment banks selling mortgage-backed securities, the "Great Recession" sank the world into the deepest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression from the 1920s to the 1940s. While Wall Street tumbled, Main Street reeled, with trillions of dollars in economic growth lost and millions losing not only their homes, but their jobs. The echoes of the crisis reverberated through people's lives for years; some never recovered.

"Margin Call" unfolds at an unnamed investment bank where, during a round of layoffs, a young analyst (Zachary Quinto) discovers the firm's risky trading has potentially led not only to the organization's demise, but to a potential market collapse. Over the course of 24 hours, the firm must decide how to proceed knowing there is no going back. "Margin Call" is a taut Wall Street drama that's not just about the numbers — it's also a story of the very human choices and circumstances that led to this economic and societal catastrophe. The conclusion of the film can't be understood by mere spreadsheets, and its characters' moral ambiguities live outside a financial algorithm. So let's explain the ending of "Margin Call" and explore how small choices can lead to big trouble.

What you need to remember about the plot of Margin Call

In "Margin Call," it's 2008 and a heavy round of layoffs is taking place at an unnamed investment bank. Head of risk management Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is fired, and as he's escorted from the building, Dale passes a flash drive of his work to young associate, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). He asks Sullivan to finish the work located on the drive, but Dale warns Sullivan to "be careful." Completing Dale's work that night, Sullivan discovers the bank is on an inevitable path to failure due to the firm's over-leveraged assets.

Sullivan, along with analyst Seth Bregman ( Penn Badgley ), trader Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), and Emerson's boss, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), attend an emergency meeting with an executive team that includes Jeremy Cohen (Simon Baker) and Chief Risk Management Officer Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore). Cohen and Robertson conclude Sullivan's report checks out, but it's not a startling revelation to the higher-ups. Rather, it serves as a receipt for their knowingly risky behavior.

With the bank on the brink of ruin, CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) is summoned to the office, and it's determined that a fire sale of the toxic assets will save the company. The liquidation sale risks the bank's industry reputation, the careers of its employees, and broader market stability. Tuld ultimately decides it's better for the firm to be the first to sell in order to survive a seemingly inevitable collapse of the financial market.

What happens at the end of Margin Call

At the end of the film, the firm moves forward with the fire sale. Despite his trepidations and knowing that it will destroy the careers of many of his employees, Rogers rallies his traders, and the firm successfully liquidates many of its assets. Many traders lose their jobs, including Bregman. Emerson, whose trading prowess we follow as the fire sale unfolds, makes the cut. Sullivan, a Ph.D.-level rocket scientist who is ambivalent about working at the firm, is promoted for his efforts and is now seen as a valuable asset to the firm's recovery.

The firm's management team doesn't fare much better. Dale, who was unceremoniously fired the day before, is all but forced back to work, his severance and benefits held hostage unless he comes back. His work uncovered the crisis, and the firm wants to keep him close. Robertson is pushed out by Tuld, made to publicly take responsibility for the firm's failure, but Cohen stays. While Rogers successfully commandeers the fire sale, he wants out of his job. He confronts Tuld, asking him how they messed up so badly. Tuld sees the day's events as just another moment in historic market volatility. For Tuld, money is merely an imaginary concept that keeps civilization in order. His firm survives the day, and Tuld is already focused on future potential profits from the downturn. Tuld wants Rogers to stay. Disillusioned but in need of the money, Rogers continues working at the firm.

Greed and success go hand in hand

At the firm, success depends on employees' ability to embrace their own greed and selfishness. Some, like Tuld and Emerson, rationalize their greed as a reaction to outside systems. Tuld believes that the markets can't be controlled, one simply reacts to them. Through this twisted logic, he is able to absolve himself of personal responsibility for the societal misery brought on by his choices. Tuld believes there are always winners and losers.

Emerson, meanwhile, justifies his work as merely giving people what they want. If they want to afford big houses and fancy cars, Emerson thinks, he's the one who moves the money to make it happen. Both men understand how their choices affect society but show little concern for any negative outcomes. Because in their minds, if they're not holding power or making money, then someone else will.

For other characters, their greed manifests in acts of quiet self-interest. When Rogers leaves the room when Cohen and Robertson discuss Sullivan's findings, he's asked to stay and possibly help in their predicament. Instead, he leaves, telling them that willful ignorance about the hard data and problems facing the company is how he's been at the firm so long. For Rogers, ignorance is not only bliss — it's a survival tactic. To Sullivan, his work at the firm is just numbers, and he's only there because of the good pay. Ironically, it's the openly money-obsessed Bregman, who, only when faced with his inevitable firing, thinks outside of himself and contemplates how the firm's actions will hurt regular people.

Why build bridges when investment banking pays so much better?

Many of the firm's employees didn't start their careers in finance, but enticed by the enormous payouts of investment banking, they ditched their more humble and noble work for Wall Street. Before joining the firm, Dale worked as an engineer. He tells Emerson about how he designed a bridge that saved drivers hours of their life commuting, thus improving their quality of life. Sullivan, a literal rocket scientist, works at the firm because, he says, it pays better than science.

Both Dale and Sullivan traded in their altruistic careers for well-paying positions at the firm but — at least for Dale — it has come at a high price. When Emerson tries to get Dale to return to the firm with promises of a big payday, Dale responds, "I've been paid enough already." He's been there, done that, and was fired unceremoniously after nearly 20 years on the job. He knows what his work has revealed about the firm and doesn't like it, and he laments the intangibility and uselessness of his work with the firm compared to his more civic-minded past career in engineering. Meanwhile, newbie Sullivan is rewarded with a promotion for completing Dale's work. While we understand possibilities that Dale has seemingly squandered for investment banking, Sullivan bolted for Wall Street early in his scientific career, so we don't know the scientific potential Sullivan abandoned by joining the firm. However, at the end of the movie when he is seated in the executive dining room, Sullivan's trepidatious glance at Rogers implies it's a lot.

What did senior leadership know before the meeting?

When an emergency meeting is called to pore over Dale's now-completed report, we assume it's to alert the executive team about potentially new, perilous information. Sullivan, Bregman, and Emerson are shocked by their findings and jump to warn senior leadership. Turns out, the senior leadership was already aware of the firm's troubles. During the meeting, Rogers whispers to Robertson that he warned her about potential trouble last year and that if she had listened to him, they wouldn't be in this position now. So not only did Dale know, but Rogers and Robertson did, too.

Later, when Cohen and Robertson speak alone, we learn that Cohen was also in on the information. They know consequences are in order and attempt to formulate a strategy as to how they will handle their boss, Tuld. It's not that they want to reveal insights to Tuld, but they want to manage him now that the report's findings are known. They're keeping no secrets from the CEO because Tuld knew about the toxic assets as well. Rogers acknowledges that Tuld is working with more information than he has, and when Tuld fires Robertson, she makes it clear that she, Cohen, and Tuld had some sort of pact around what they were doing. While the exact extent of their knowledge is never revealed, it's safe to say firm leadership had lots of information about their toxic position well before the movie takes place.

Dale and Robertson know the firm has the power

Eric Dale was merely doing his job by digging into the precarious trading practices of the firm, and for his efforts, he was laid off. Emerson implies his firing was at the hands of Sarah Robertson, and Dale clearly regrets that he went to her last year — but what for is not revealed. As he walks out of the building, Dale spots Robertson and confronts her. She doesn't deny his accusations that she had anything to do with his firing, and she walks into the building flustered. There's unspoken tension between Dale and Robinson, and soon we learn why.

With the emergency meeting well underway, it's revealed that Robertson and Cohen knew about the firm's risky trading practices, and now Dale's work (completed by Sullivan) has exposed them. Robertson wants assurance from Cohen that they will go down together, but he doesn't give it to her. When Tuld fires Robertson and asks her to take a public fall for the firm instead of Cohen, she reminds him that she warned both him and Cohen about the impending catastrophe. Tuld urges her not to protest the decision, and she reluctantly obeys. She eventually finds herself sequestered in the same room as Dale, who is now back with the firm after they threatened to mess with his severance package. Dale and Robertson are trapped by the firm, both literally and figuratively. The firm has the power, and feeling there's little they can do to fight back, Dale and Robertson accept their fates.

Rogers' dog days on Wall Street

Sam Rogers is a decades-long veteran of the firm, but the brutal inhumanity of his work is finally catching up with him. We meet Rogers as the firm conducts a massive layoff. Distraught, Rogers wipes away tears — not for the newly unemployed, but for his dying dog. Rogers has been through job loss cycles before, and he rallies those left with jobs with a polished, well-honed speech. It's rote work for Rogers. Later, as Sullivan works into the night completing Dale's work, Rogers is at the vet, consoling his sick chocolate lab. Others are hard at work in the office, but Rogers is the only character seen actively tending to his personal life.

At the end of the film, understanding the human toll of the fire sale he just facilitated, Rogers storms the executive dining room to tell Tuld he wants out of the firm. Tuld diffuses Rogers' rage by telling him how lucky he is to be working at the firm and that it's better than digging ditches. Rogers retorts, "And if I had, at least there'd be some holes in the ground to show for it." Ironically, the final scene of "Margin Call" takes place during the night in the front yard of Rogers' ex-wife, Mary (Mary McDonnell). Rogers, in his rolled-up dress shirt, digs a grave for his dog, Ella. Rogers indeed digs his ditch, but all he has to show for it is grief, loss, and suffering.

The real-life inspirations behind Margin Call's fictional bank

"Margin Call" takes place at a fictional, unnamed investment bank, but it's definitely inspired by true events. The subprime mortgage crisis crescendoed in September 2008, when Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, the same year the movie takes place. Writer and director J.C. Chandor, whose father worked on Wall Street, penned the script soon after Lehman Brothers' collapse. His story wasn't a specific indictment of one bank; rather, as he told The New York Times , the movie was meant to figure out "the decision-making process that got us into this mess."

The movie not only takes inspiration from Lehman Brothers but from some of its power players. There are parallels between former Lehman Brothers chief risk officer Madelyn Antoncic and "Margin Call's" Sarah Robertson. In an op-ed published by The New York Times , Antoncic wrote that she alerted leadership about their risk missteps but was dismissed. While Robertson says in the film that her warnings were expressed with "insufficient urgency," she acted in a manner similar to her real-life counterpart. But Robertson isn't the only character inspired by real people. John Tuld is a combination of former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain and Lehman Brothers head Dick Fuld. Fuld was pinpointed as a main instigator of the financial crisis, and it's safe to say that if the story of "Margin Call" had time to unfold, Tuld would have been considered in the same light.

What has the cast and crew of Margin Call said about the ending?

"Margin Call" boasts an all-star cast that was attracted to the film because it brought a human element to a very technical, and at times, hard-to-understand societal issue. Jeremy Irons said the film "clarifies what a lot of us sort of thought might have been happening, but didn't quite understand how it was happening and why it happened." He also said that when people finish "Margin Call," "They will understand how normal, pretty honest individuals got into this situation. How unregulated financial behavior [is something] we can't really have in society these days."

Other cast members have spoken about the film's ability to make complex financial issues simple for audiences to understand. Simon Baker said in an interview  that the film "in essence explained those things, but more in layman's terms and put it on a more human, hierarchical system so I can look at is as a layman." He said, "The script doesn't delve too much into the vernacular of that world." Paul Bettany has  commented on the moral ambiguity of "Margin Call," noting that the characters are not villains, rather they are merely acting on their capitalistic instincts that are aligned with the economic system in which they find themselves.

Margin Call's alternate ending

In an interview with ProPublica , writer and director J.C. Chandor shared that "Margin Call" could have had a very different ending from the final version. In 2009, financing the movie proved difficult, perhaps given its proximity to the crash itself. Chandor said money was available to produce the film but at a price: Chandor said he felt he could get financiers on board, but only if he provided them a Hollywood ending. Chandor said, "If Zachary Quinto's character had stood up and called in the SEC, and [Kevin] Spacey's character had been perp-walked out of the building à la [Oliver Stone's film "Wall Street"], I had a check to go make the movie. It was a very simple change at the end of the movie. It's often what happens with financiers that come on."

Chandor never said that he wrote this "alternate ending," nor did he suggest that such an ending was ever filmed. But it's clear that "Margin Call" could have been another typical Hollywood finance movie like "Wall Street" or "The Wolf of Wall Street" with an audience-pleasing ending, except Chandor stuck to his story. He shared, "I strongly, strongly felt that you did not get a systemic collapse where the tip of the sword of capitalism had to be socialized — which was of course what had just happened, where the government basically had to come in and take over the banking sector — you don't get that happening just on individual failure." Instead, the movie deliberately denies any one character hero status, choosing to examine the moral, ethical, and emotional dubiousness they face by working at the firm. Other films, like "The Big Short,"  have told stories about the financial crisis, but none have the unnerving ambiguity of "Margin Call."

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Set in the high-stakes world of the financial industry, Margin Call is an entangling thriller involving the key players at an investment firm during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When an entry-level analyst unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster.

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From a Dead Dog to a Made-Up Meeting: Takeaways From Kristi Noem’s Book

After a rough start to the rollout of her memoir, the South Dakota governor has continued to defend shooting her dog and to deflect on a false story about meeting Kim Jong-un.

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Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota speaking at a lectern in front of a large American flag.

By Chris Cameron

  • May 7, 2024

In one sense, Kristi Noem has had a wildly successful rollout of her new book: America can’t stop talking about it.

But all the chatter is not for the reasons Ms. Noem, the conservative governor of South Dakota, might have expected when she finished “No Going Back,” a memoir that recounts her political career. The book appears aimed at raising her profile as a MAGA loyalist while former President Donald J. Trump weighs his choices for running mate . Just a month ago, Ms. Noem had been widely seen as a contender.

Instead of talking up her conservative bona fides, however, Ms. Noem has spent the last week on national television defending a grisly account in the book in which she shoots her dog in a gravel pit. The killing of the dog, a 14-month-old wire-haired pointer named Cricket, has drawn bipartisan criticism and scrutiny.

The book, published on Tuesday, includes a number of other noteworthy details, some of which Ms. Noem has discussed in recent interviews. Here are five takeaways.

Noem has a lot of criticism for other Republicans.

Ms. Noem’s account of her time in office — first as South Dakota’s sole House representative and then as governor — includes many stories that broadly criticize Republicans for their electoral failures, while also targeting figures who have drawn the ire of Mr. Trump.

She describes a phone conversation she had with Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who dropped out of the Republican presidential primary race in March, claiming that Ms. Haley had threatened her because they were both prominent Republican women. Chaney Denton, a spokeswoman for Ms. Haley, has said Ms. Noem’s account of the conversation was inaccurate, and “just plain weird.”

Ms. Noem also blames Ronna McDaniel, the former chairwoman of the Republican National Committee , for the poor performance of Republican candidates in the 2022 midterms, and criticizes her for not supporting Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen — though Ms. Noem herself writes in that section that “Trump lost in 2020.”

“We got lazy, and no one was held accountable,” she says, adding that Mr. Trump was wrongly blamed for Republicans’ underperforming. She also called out the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, though she says she has hope for 2024 and is “willing to help.”

Ms. Noem devotes a section of the book to RINOs — Republicans in Name Only — a favorite pejorative of Mr. Trump that he has deployed against critics within the party.

“In many ways, these political creatures are worse than some donkeys,” Ms. Noem wrote, referring to Democrats in that section as “donkeys.”

But Ms. Noem also takes a swipe at some Republicans on the far right in her party, saying that they have contributed to recent election losses.

“Losing sucks. But Republicans happen to be great at it,” she writes in one section, adding: “Candidates talk like crazy people, make wild claims, and offer big promises. And they lose. Of course, there are some crazy candidates, but I’m not talking about them. This is about good folks who choose the wide path of bomb throwing and parroting whatever’s on social media, as opposed to speaking rationally and humbly offering solutions.”

Noem says shooting her dog was a “difficult” choice, and suggests one of President Biden’s dogs should be put down, too.

Ms. Noem has repeatedly defended her decision to kill her dog , Cricket, and her politically baffling choice to include the anecdote in her memoir.

In the book, she describes an incident where Cricket killed a neighbor’s chickens and says the dog tried to bite Ms. Noem as she sought to restrain her. After taking Cricket home and shooting her, Ms. Noem writes, “I realized another unpleasant job needed to be done. Walking back up to the yard, I spotted our billy goat.”

The goat, Ms. Noem writes, “was nasty and mean,” smelled terrible and often chased her children around. So she dragged him out to the gravel pit, too — but didn’t kill him with the first shot, and had to go back to her truck for more ammunition to finish the job.

In an interview with Sean Hannity last week, Ms. Noem said she had included the story in the book to illustrate the “tough, challenging decisions that I’ve had to make throughout my life.”

In an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS on Sunday, Ms. Noem called attention to another part of the book in which she suggested that one of President Biden’s dogs, a bite-prone German shepherd named Commander, should also be put down.

In a section of the memoir discussing what Ms. Noem would do on her first day in office as president, she wrote that “the first thing I’d do is make sure Joe Biden’s dog was nowhere on the grounds (‘Commander, say hello to Cricket for me’).” Ms. Noem made a similar suggestion in her interview on Sunday.

“You’re saying he should be shot?” asked the CBS host Margaret Brennan.

“That what’s the president should be accountable to,” Ms. Noem replied.

The print edition of the book includes a false anecdote about Noem meeting Kim Jong-un.

Ms. Noem writes in the memoir that she met with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, while serving on the House Armed Services Committee.

“I had the chance to travel to many countries to meet with world leaders — some who wanted our help, and some who didn’t,” she writes. “I remember when I met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. I’m sure he underestimated me, having no clue about my experience staring down little tyrants (I’d been a children’s pastor, after all). Dealing with foreign leaders takes resolve, preparation, and determination.”

This was an error, according to Ian Fury, the chief of communications for Ms. Noem. Ms. Noem has said in later interviews that she takes “responsibility for the change,” but has not explained why the anecdote was included or whom she could have been referring to, if not Mr. Kim. She has also pushed back when the false anecdote has been characterized as a mistake.

“This is an anecdote that I asked to have removed, because I think it’s appropriate at this point in time,” Ms. Noem said in her interview on “Face the Nation.” “But I’m not going to talk to you about those personal meetings that I have had with world leaders.”

Noem gives a glowing portrait of Trump, and alludes to her future aspirations.

Ms. Noem heaps praise on the former president in her memoir, describing him as “a breaker and a builder,” writing, “He was relentlessly attacked for personal failures — and fictional ones — but stayed in the race and never wavered.”

She also reminds readers that she defended Mr. Trump in a speech the day after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, “regardless of the fact that what unfolded on January 6 was undeniably ugly.”

At one point, she also says that Mr. Trump, “in some funny ways,” is similar to her young granddaughter.

“I see similarities between Trump and my granddaughter, Miss Addie (that’s what I call her),” Ms. Noem writes. “She’s almost three years old and, in my unbiased view, one of the most brilliant human beings I’ve ever met (tied for first place with my grandson, of course!)”

But while Ms. Noem may be angling for a place at Mr. Trump’s side as his running mate, she insists in the memoir that if she is picked, it should not be because she’s a woman.

“I’m often asked by the national media if I think Donald Trump should pick a woman to be vice president,” Ms. Noem writes. “My answer is always about choosing the best people for the job.”

The final chapter of the book focuses not on any vice-presidential aspirations, but rather on what she would do on “Day 1” if elected president herself. It begins with a quote from Mr. Trump saying in December that if elected as president, he wouldn’t be a dictator, “except for Day 1.”

Along with putting federal property up for sale and convening a bipartisan working group on immigration, Ms. Noem writes, she would invite the Obamas and Bidens over to the White House for a screening of “The Grey,” a Liam Neeson film about battling wolves that she describes earlier in the book as among her favorites.

Noem offers a somewhat exaggerated account of protests outside the White House in 2020.

In the book’s introduction, Ms. Noem writes that a chaotic protest outside Mr. Trump’s 2020 nomination for re-election , held at the White House in August, was a pivotal moment for her — and inspired her to “live a life of significance — no matter where that commitment took me.” She wrote of a Washington under siege.

“We could hear explosions and screams in the distance,” she wrote. “On the other side of the fence, sounds of shouting and chaos. I smelled what we guessed was tear gas. We were trapped.”

But her account of a “massive and, at times, violent protest” doesn’t align with contemporaneous reports.

There was a significant demonstration outside the White House during Mr. Trump’s renominating event — one that tried to disrupt his acceptance speech by making noise . Reports from the time described the demonstration as “generally peaceful” and “significantly smaller” than the demonstrations that were forcibly dispersed by Mr. Trump earlier in the spring . There is also no evidence that tear gas was deployed that night.

Chris Cameron covers politics for The Times, focusing on breaking news and the 2024 campaign. More about Chris Cameron

Our Coverage of the 2024 Election

Presidential Race

President Biden and Donald Trump have agreed to two debates  on June 27 on CNN and Sept. 10 on ABC News, raising the likelihood of the earliest general-election debate  in modern history.

The early-debate gambit from Biden amounted to a public acknowledgment that he is trailing in his re-election bid , and a bet that an accelerated debate timeline will force voters to confront the possibility of Trump returning to power .

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s running mate, the Silicon Valley investor Nicole Shanahan, said that she had given another $8 million  to their independent campaign.

Biden’s Investments in Battlegrounds:  Biden’s economic policies have helped spur billions of dollars in new investments in Arizona and Georgia, yet Trump has maintained a significant lead over Biden in both states .

Warming to Trump:  In an about-face, big financiers on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are increasingly on board for a second Trump term  after the first one alienated them.

Russian Disinformation:  Ahead of the election, Russian disinformation videos are trying to appeal to right-wing voters with fake messages about Biden , experts say.

Black Women in the Senate:  The Democratic Party has taken heat for not backing Black female candidates in statewide races. But in November, voters could double the number of Black women ever elected to the Senate .


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    Cunning is maliciousness disguised as intelligence. Intelligence necessitates putting yourself and your notions aside to learn truth. Cunning people will never and can never do that, and they're not very smart, they're just manipulative. It's social intelligence used as a weapon to hurt people for self gain.

  5. Margin Call movie review & film summary (2011)

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    It's important, though, that Margin Call preserves the humanity of most of its players - I was happy to see Spacey in a non-snarky role, a man who wants to do good but is forced by years of financial tradition to continue stealing from the 99%. For its standout cast, even tone and clever script, Margin Call gets three stars out of four.

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