The new movie, MARGIN CALL is a fiction film that tries to explain how one Wall Street firm started the collapse of the American economy in 2008. It's an excellent film that deserves to be seen. I wish it were playing on more than just one screen at Kahala Mall.
The film depicts a 24 hour period at a Wall Street investment firm when everything that could go wrong actually did, beginning with mass layoffs.
That evening, working late, one of the surving employees, Zachary Quinto (he played Spock in Star Trek) discovers big trouble with the risky mortgage based securities his firm has been selling at great profit.
Even though it's late at night, everyone important is called back to the office from from low level managers Paul Bettany and Kevin Spacey to middle managers Demi Moore and Simon Baker, to the top man played by Jeremy Irons.
As they gather in a conference room, Quinto responds to the big boss's request to sum up the damage. "Sir, if those assets decrease by just 25 percent, and remain on our books," Qunito says, "that loss would be greater than the current market capitalization of this entire company."
In essence the firm's Ponzi scheme has caught up with them. and Irons wants the firm to sell all the worthless assets immediately.
Spacey objects. "You're selling something that you know has no value," he tells Irons.
"We are selling something to willing buyers at the current fair market price," Irons responds, his voice rising, "so that we may survive!"
"You will never sell anything to any of those people ever again," says Spacey, shaking his head.
Spacey's character is the only person in the room to express any reservations about destroying other investors to save themselves.
But the point of MARGIN CALL isn't to show how rotten these people are but rather to show how they saved themselves at the expense of others. The film makes their position understandable even though it's not defensible.
The film delivers smart dialogue, good acting, and a heavy load of unspoken tension.
MARGIN CALL won't help anyone understand the actual details of the financial manipulations that created the mess we're in, but it does humanize the greedy people responsible for it.
They were "going along to get along" as so many of us do.