A New York investment bank is taking its first down-sizing action in the face of the approaching Global Financial Crisis. Risk Manager, Eric Dale (played by Stanley Tucci) is one of the first to be dispensed with in a sterile, heartless manner by a hatchet team from the firm’s HR branch. He must leave the floor forthwith and his immediate boss Will Emerson (by Paul Bettany) calls by his office to offer his best wishes. Eric has an unfinished project that concerns him, but Will gives him the brush-off and tells him everything’s being handled already. Eric packs his boxes and upon his departure two of his young traders Peter Sullivan (by Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (by Penn Badgley) pay their respects and wish him well. Eric hands a USB stick with the unfinished project on it to Peter with the parting words “be careful”, then departs the building. The bank continues to leech its staff and at day’s end only 20% of the traders remain. The traders are given a gee-up by Will Emerson’s boss, Sam Rogers (by Kevin Spacey) to make sure they are still motivated to work. Sam has been at the bank for 34 years and has seen times like this before, so he knows just what to say to “rouse the troops” once again. Most traders leave the floor to commiserate over drinks, but Peter stays behind feeling conscientious. He considers the USB Eric left him, then decides to take a look. After a few hours he realises he has something big … big and disastrous for the bank. He immediately gets Will Emmerson involved. Upon seeing the magnitude of the problem, Will lets Sam Rogers know – by now it’s almost midnight and Sam returns to the office to learn of the problem. Sam is concerned enough to call his next-up manager, Jared Cohen (by Simon Baker). Cohen is a no-nonsense, inanimate man who involves his Risk Manager, Sarah Robertson (by Demi Moore) in an in-person conference at 2.00am to hear the news. The problem as arisen due to some action taken by Cohen and Robertson that has not gone as forecast. This issue is now urgent enough for Cohen to notify the bank’s CEO, John Tuld (by Jeremy Irons) and he arrives within the hour by helicopter. The roomful of financiers consider the urgency of the issue and decide on a plan to save the bank, but one which must be carried out and finished by mid-afternoon the next day and which also has dire consequences for most others (particularly investors) who are involved with the bank. We spend the next day with the traders at the bank to watch the plan unfold – and its impact on the staff who have carried it out.
This is a really good movie. The drama and suspense is superbly developed and (given that this is mostly filmed in the offices and largely portrayed by “men in suits at the computer or around a conference table”) it is very easy to watch. There is a potential for the audience to be flummoxed by such a complex situation, but here the dialogue is straightforward … enhanced by the fact that as we go higher in the chain of command, each manager asks for the situation to be explained in “plainer English” – to the point where the CEO (Jeremy Irons) asks Peter to speak to him like he’s “a golden retriever”. We also get an insight into the utter ruthlessness and heartlessness of high finance – with all the human dilemmas, morality and awareness of implications of actions in this crisis. This ensemble cast is marvellous – best is Kevin Spacey, but others are also worthy of acclaim … Simon Baker totally inhabits Cohen; Paul Bettany is realistic here and Jeremy Irons creates the arrogant Tuld with excellence and supposed ease. Penn Badgley’s character, Seth, is a bit redundant actually – he doesn’t really need to be there and I would have loved to have seen much much more of Stanley Tucci in his role. All in all, it’s a good movie – it kept me engaged and entertained the entire way.
Made 2011. Directed by J. C. Chandor