Log Line

An executive at a Wall Street investment firm attempts to stand firm morally in the face of threats to the economic survival of himself and the company he works for.


Medium: Film

Writer(s): J.C. Chandor

Director(s): J.C. Chandor

Production Co.(s): Untitled Entertainment; Washington Square Films; Benaroya Pictures; Before The Door Pictures; Margin Call; Sakonnet Capital Partners

In Margin Call, a Wall Street investment firm faces the threat of annihilation due to problems of its own making—particularly owing to its greed. For nearly two years, it has been packaging and selling mortgage-backed securities that are highly speculative and nearly worthless, and it has profited greatly from the sales. But due to bookkeeping matters peculiar to the securities, it finds itself over-leveraged, having crossed the sacred outer boundaries of volatility upon which its trading model is based. As a result, if the value of securities drops by as little as 25%, its debt will exceed its market capitalization, the firm will go bankrupt, and the ramifications will be felt across the entire investment world.

The problem is first identified by Eric Dale, a numbers man and long-time risk analyst for the firm. But before he can complete his analysis, he is removed from his job by a sweeping and impersonal corporate downsizing move that also touches 80% of his peers. As he is escorted to the lobby by a security officer soon after his dismissal, he hands off to an earnest young associate, Peter Sullivan, a flash drive containing the project work to-date and delivers an ominous warning to be careful.

Late that night, as his coworkers unwind from the downsizing bloodbath, Peter completes the analysis and discovers its frightening implications for the financial vulnerability of the firm. He quickly marshals his coworkers—consisting at first of Seth, his peer, and Will, his superior—and informs them of the results. Will's quick comprehension of the seriousness of the matter sets off a cascading revelation within the immediate ranks of those at his level and above—which leads, in turn, to a sleepless night of strategizing by all concerned as they address the threat to the firm for which they work.

At the center of the rapidly building storm stands Sam Rogers, the main character, who oversees Will and Peter's group. When we-the-audience first meet Sam, earlier in the day, he is crying, not for his laid-off coworkers but for the impending loss of his dog, Ella, who suffers from a cancerous liver and whose health he has tried to sustain at a recent cost of nearly $1000 a day. But now, as the firm's vulnerability comes to light, he is all business. And although he has spent his life in a world that measures all value in terms of currency, he soon finds himself attempting to oppose the efforts of his superiors to solve the crisis through strategies of questionable morality.

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