Photo: Margin Call Trailer on Yahoo
The new movie Margin Call, starring Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey, is getting rave reviews from people in finance.Unfortunately, the exact reason finance people will like it is the exact reason it will have zero commercial appeal.
The 30-second recap: Margin Call takes place at a fictional bank in the early days of the financial crisis. The bank sees the writing on the wall, and its CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) makes the decision to dump a ton of MBS onto the laps of customers, a move that may save the bank’s balance sheet but potentially ruin its reputation among clients (not to mention ruin the reputation of traders who have to sweet talk clients into buying into the firesale).
The film explores the moral dimension of high finance: Sam Rogers (Spacey), the longtime head of the fixed-income trading floor, wrestles with the ethics of Tuld’s move, and wonders whether he should’ve just gone into ditch-digging. An up-and-coming young risk analyst with a background in physics tries to believe that the whole thing is more than mere gambling.
It’s all good stuff, and well-acted.
But ultimately, it’s just too real to be likable for most people. Rogers actually uses lines like “unwind our fixed-income MBS book.” The characters don’t get into shouting matches: They have serious discussions where they go over numbers at big boardroom tables. Traders talk to clients and use phrases like “offloading risk.” And they even talk about Value At-Risk. Also: There are Bloomberg terminals galore in the movie.
Basically, the movie suffers form the exact opposite of Wall Street II, which wasn’t realistic at all (Shia LaBeouf’s character, if you recall, is a prop-trader/broker/i-banker/PIPE-investor/VC/Cleantech analyst). So finance people will love Margin Call, but most people just won’t get it.