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Margin Call (2011)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

A friend of mine who used to be in what is euphemistically called the “financial services” industry wrote me that J.C. Chandor’s low budget indie Margin Call “totally nails it” in its depiction of events leading up the 2008 crash — which is super scary, because the fictional traders presented in this film are the absolute scum of the earth. And these are our financial advisors? God help us all.

Chandor wrote and directed with film, which was shot simply and efficiently, as Benjamin Wallace described in New York Magazine, noting that “for the seventeen-day shoot last June, the cast and crew took over the entire 42nd floor of One Penn Plaza, near Madison Square Garden, which had recently been vacated by a trading firm.” It’s the classic low budget strategy; keep your cast in one location for most of the shoot to keep costs down, have a script that everyone believes in so they’ll do it for a fraction of their usual fees, and film it fast, fast, fast. The results are staggering.

The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, and Penn Badgley; the film was shot for a mere $3.5 million dollars, and has received spectacular reviews.

First-time director J.C. Chandor labored for 15 years — that’s right, 15 years — to get this off the ground; read an amazingly candid interview with him from Movieline here, which is a testament to keeping going when all the odds seem against you. Independent filmmaking is always a struggle, and it seems that Chandor had to work harder than most to get Margin Call made, but the end of result is more than worth it. This is a remarkable film, and a success on every level, from the impeccable and understated ensemble acting to  the cold, sleek photography and the sharp, observant script, in which the whole awful drama plays out with realistic understatement.

Want to know how it all went wrong? See this film.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him or his website,

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