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Margin Call (2011)
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, Margin Call is an independently produced film which showcases the actions and decisions taken by senior executives of an investment banking firm moments before the stock markets saw the first signs of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the later 2007-2012 financial crisis.
The lead roles were portrayed by an ensemble case consisting of Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.
The Mass Sacking
Peter Sullivan (played by Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (played by Penn Badgley) are risk analysts at a major investment bank's trading floor in downtown New York. One afternoon, they witness a contracted Human Resources firm walk in to conduct a sudden and unannounced mass layoff of staff. The sudden walk-in is also witnessed by the floor's head of trading, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) who advises the youngsters to simply ignore what's going on and to get back to work.
While Peter, Seth and Will escape getting the axe, Peter's and Seth's boss, Eric Dale (played by Stanley Tucci) who's head of risk-management on the floor, is not so lucky. Representatives from the HR team, Lauren Bratburg (Susan Blackwell) and Heather Burke (Ashley Williams) advise Eric that he's part of almost 80% of the staff who's being let go and that due to the sensitive nature of his role, his office privileges will be taken away from him with immediate effect (including his access to his company e-mail account and cellphone) and he'll be escorted out of the building by security.
Eric Dale's Exit Interview and Warning
Before Eric leaves the building, he hands over a flash-drive to Peter Sullivan containing some unfinished work to check and advises him to 'be careful'. Meanwhile, Will's boss and floor-head, Sam Rogers (played by Kevin Spacey) advises Will that this layoff precedes worse things to come - he gives a pep-talk to the surviving staff on the floor and requests them to remain optimistic.
Peter's Discovery and Eric Dale goes Missing
Later that night, Peter continues working on Eric's unfinished project and is shocked to discover the end-result. He discovers that the bank's exposure to losses due to its holding and trading of low quality mortgage backed-securities and other toxic assets is so high that even a slight drop in value (to the tune of 25%) will result in the firm's losses exceeding its market-capitalization. Peter quickly summons Seth and Will back to the office and explains to them what he's discovered. Will tries getting in touch with Eric Dale but he's gone missing since his dismissal so he sends Peter and Seth out to look for him.
The News Spreads
Will then contacts Sam Rogers and asks him to get back to the office ASAP and the news is quickly spread to the more senior executives in the firm. Still not knowing where Eric Dale is, Peter and Seth return to the office and go with Sam and Will to meet Division-Head Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Chief Risk-management officer, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) to explain the full extent of the crisis. Jared recommends a fire-sale of all toxic-assets the firm holds without any room for a swap - a move strongly objected upon by Sam who repeatedly expresses concern that a one-way fire sale will eventually destroy the firm's reputation by not only negatively impacting its relationships with its counter-parties but by also ruining the financial markets in the long run when people realize that the securities are worthless.
Enter the CEO
The news finally reaches CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) who supports Jared's idea of a fire sale despite strong objection from Rogers. Tuld justifies the fire-sale by saying that it was the only way possible for the firm to survive else the repercussions were going to be catastrophic, not just for their bank but for a lot of other people and players in the market. Tuld eventually fires Sarah Robertson (for the sake of labeling someone from the executive committee as a scapegoat) and offers a handsome incentive to Rogers if he convinces his trading floor to execute the fire-sale (which he eventually does).
Eric Dale's Located
Meanwhile, Will Emerson receives a call from Eric Dale's wife (who contacted him without Dale's knowledge) and along with Seth, drives to his home in Brooklyn Heights and manages to locate him. He advises Eric to return to the firm for the day of the fire-sale else he won't get much out of his severance package originally offered to him. Dale eventually agrees and comes to face to face with Sarah Robertson, who he'd long suspected to be behind his dismissal. Both get paid very handsomely for doing practically nothing for the day (Eric getting paid roughly $176,000.00 USD per hour ).
Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) tells it like it is about Wall Street (This is probably the best scene in the movie)
The Fire-Sale Begins
During the course of the fire-sale, Sam Rogers offers his floor a one-off bonus of $1.3 million to his staff should they make a 93% churn and another $1 million should the floor meet a similar conversion rate and warns his staff that by being a part of this procedure, they'll effectively be destroying their relationships with their counter-parties and eventually ending their careers. As the day wears on, things get increasingly tense as the firm's counter-parties in other banks become increasingly suspicious of their actions (the unit price for securities dropping to as low as 55-60 cents in the dollar by mid-afternoon trading). At the trading day's end, the same HR team (which was shown conducting the mass layoffs at the beginning of the film) walks in again to conduct another mass layoff of staff. Rogers, clearly disturbed by this, walks up to the executive dining room to have a one on one chat with Tuld and offers his resignation on moral grounds. Tuld convinces him to stay for another 2 years, saying that there's a lot of money to be made coming out of this mess and that this crisis is no different to the financial crises in the past. Rogers decides to stay on and while Peter Sullivan's promoted, his junior colleague Seth is made redundant.
John Tuld's (Jeremy Irons) final speech regarding the crisis being the same as before
Final Moments as the Seeds of Disaster are Sown
The film closes in on Sam Rogers burying his pet dog Ella (who was earlier shown to suffer from a terminal tumor on her liver) in his ex-wife's home's front lawn. His ex-wife Mary Rogers (Mary McDonnell) while being supportive of Sam during his time of grief, takes offense to his being there and politely requests him to not barge in like that again since he didn't live there anymore.