Margin Call (15)

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore
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The Independent Culture

A sort of low-key disaster movie, this focuses on a handful of Wall Street suits trying to save themselves on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis.

That we should even care about such people is a mark of first-time film-maker J C Chandor's smart script and sympathetic handling. It builds expertly: during a killer round of redundancies at an investment firm, an outgoing risk analyst (Stanley Tucci) hands a flash drive to a bright junior (Zachary Quinto) with a warning to "be careful". Late that evening, Quinto runs Tucci's numbers, and from the look on his face we know the news is bad – the news is apocalyptic.

Up the chain of command it goes, to razor-tongued manager Paul Bettany, to mournful senior Kevin Spacey, to partners Demi Moore and Simon Baker, and finally to the death's-head CEO himself, Jeremy Irons. It is this last who will decide on the escape route – ordering a fire sale of worthless stock, dumped on unsuspecting clients who will most likely go bankrupt. (Lehman Brothers are strong contenders for Chandor's real-life model.) The film is a linked sequence of meetings in high-rise offices, tense in mood, laconic in delivery, and pretty devastating in implication. The language of finance – mumbo and its concomitant, jumbo – has been pared down to bite-size chunks, allowing a non-expert audience (ie, most of us) to get a handle on the whole devious game. The cast do tremendous work, especially Tucci and Spacey, who gives his first decent performance in years. This is the best American film about the money market since Boiler Room.