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A drama about a bank during the financial crisis of 2007-2010. The story centers on a trading firm that recently went through a cycle of layoffs. One of the laid off staffers, Eric Dale, passes on a program that he was in the middle of working on to his protege, Peter Sullivan. Later that night, Peter examines the program and discovers a fatal problem in the firm's holdings and this discovery propels the movie.
Margin Call contains examples of these tropes:
- All-Star Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, and Stanley Tucci.
- Bottle Episode: Close. Most of the scenes occur in a single office building, partially to save money on filming.
- And it didn't hurt that the space used for filming had very recently been the offices of a trading firm, saving some money on set decoration
- Chekhov's Gun: Sam's dog, who we learn is terminally ill very early in the film. After a brief scene where he holds her shortly thereafter, she reappears only in the final scene, where he buries her in the front yard of the house he lost to his ex-wife.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Most of the firm's senior managers, with the exception of Sam Rogers, who warns his boss and colleagues that the mass selloff they have planned to save the firm will destroy any credibility of the firm and anyone acting on its behalf have accumulated in the market. After it succeeds, he asks the company's president if he can leave the firm.
- Deal with the Devil: The firm can save itself only if it engages in deceptive business practices on a massive scale for one trading day, causing large ripple effects around the entire market and costing it its hard-earned credibility and the trust of its customers.
- Evil Brit: John Tuld
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie starts Thursday afternoon and ends Friday at 5 (except for an epilogue which is probably Friday night).
- Fake American: Simon Baker, not always convincingly. Averted with Jeremy Irons, who plays an Englishman.
- I Did What I Had to Do: A frequent justification invoked before and after the sell-off.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Peter Sullivan, a Ph.D in (literally) rocket science, stays in all evening to look over the file his boss gave him just before being laid off while his coworkers go out to nightclubs.
- Moral Event Horizon: Dumping worthless securities on unsuspecting buyers bothers everyone, but not enough for anyone to say no.
- New York City: The film was shot on location at 1 Penn Plaza (above Penn Station) on a floor recently vacated by a trading firm.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The name of John Tuld, the fictional bank's president, sounds a lot like Dick Fuld, the real-life president of Lehman Brothers, which went through an experience similar to the one depicted without the happy ending.
- Sarah Robertson may be based on Erin Callan, Lehman's CFO, who also passed on concerns about the firm's position from her subordinates but was forced to take the fall anyway.
- Pet the Dog: Sam's dog has cancer and his ex-wife allows him to bury it in their former yard.
- Punch Clock Villain: Everybody in the movie, although only Jared Cohen, Sarah Robertson, and John Tuld come close to any actual villainy.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Even it the bank survives, they've ruined their relationships with their customer base and fellow traders, and screwed the market.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Although not based upon any specific bank, the situation was common. However, some reviewers thought the actions of the bank were a justifiable way of protecting their stockholders but most viewed the bank's actions as unethical and even criminal.
- Rule of Symbolism: The dog.
- Scenery Porn: Many views of the Midtown Manhattan skyline from office windows, building roofs and helicopters.
- You Fail Economics Forever: The top executives of the bank don't understand the products they sell. Which unfortunately is realistic.
John Tuld: Explain it to me if I were a small child. Or a golden retriever.
Will Emerson: I don't even know what it is that you guys do.
Sam Rogers: I can't read that, explain it to me in English.