October 25, 2011

"Margin Call"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Among this season’s intelligent movies about smart people doing complex jobs, the Wall Street film Margin Call ranks ahead of Contagion and The Ides of March and behind only Moneyball. ... 
A running joke in Margin Call is that each higher-up understands the statistics less than his underling. As Irons disarmingly explains to the assembled executives: “Speak to me as if I were a young child or a Golden Retriever. It weren’t brains that got me here, you know that.” 

Read the whole thing there.


28 comments:

E-Bert said...

Good review. I had no idea what the movie was about, almost no idea about seeing it, but you piqued my interest now. I will want to see how Bettany did since I mostly still associate him with his role in "Dead Babies." That film wasn't topical at the time and may be getting less so.

WmarkW said...

No other film of this type is going to match the script of Moneyball, which was written by Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote Social Network. I've never seen a better-written film, whose subject could have been such a snoozer.

But here's another take Moneyball, claiming the whole premise is out of whack, because those cost-effective OBP guys weren't the nucleus of the A's.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/moneyball-the-movie-is-a-big-swing-and-a-miss/2011/10/23/gIQAk59eDM_story.html?hpid=z5

NLF said...

"As happened during the mortgage bubble, these elites lose contact with what’s happening at ground level."

I think the bigger problem is even people at the ground level became infected with abstractions handed down from the top(not least because the money kept flowing).
During the subprime bubble, how many ground-level people objected to the new policies and sent memos to upper management that giving home loans to deadbeats is crazy? Almost none. They were only too happy to sign up more people and earn their commissions. As long as they got theirs and swallowed the PC notion of 'racism is evil and home is a right for everyone' and 'geniuses on Wall Street have devised a panacea for everything', most people at the ground level were happy to play along.

"It’s more of a Goldman Sachs question: Are you in business to help your clients prosper (the old Goldman model) or to pillage your “counterparties” (the new Goldman)?"

But Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone says Goldman pulled the same shit during the Great Depression in the 30s.
I wonder... did Goldman really intend to cheat from the beginning or did they begin to cheat when they saw dark clouds ahead and desperately sought some way--any way--to rake in some dough before shit hit the fan?

NLF said...

We Shall Overcompensate.

Carol said...

Ah, and this is precisely the problem - our leaders don't really understand shit, from high finance to climate science to high tech to medicine to genetics etc.

So they're suckers for rent seekers with a good line of BS, e.g. that some new venture will create new green jobs or close the achievement gap.

Not sure what the answer is, because an expert in one field is usually a dope in another, yet will rarely admit it.

Given the historic skepticism of know-nothing pols and ward heelers, the system should work better than it does. Follow the money. But I think the last 40 years of economic decline has caused everyone to desperately seek some kind of magical Answer.

Anonymous said...

In a way, it's interesting to see more movies like JERRY MAGUIRE and MONEYBALL. Since blacks have taken over sports, white guys take on roles as managers, agents, and handlers than top athletes.

Anonymous said...

by the way, if you review "Anonymous" you should first read Sobran's Alias Shakespeare and Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name. (the latter is prob more useful for reviewing the movie, though it's twice as long.)

Allison said...

My friends who worked in Silicon Valley or in grad school at Cal and Stanford always had a joke: when talking to our bosses, we needed sock puppets. If we could convey the idea between two puppets, and have our audience understand, it would be a good meeting. Any time someone started trying to use big words or a complicated drawing, we'd say (or think ) "sock puppets, please!" the higher up, the more the need for puppets.

Anonymous said...

"Golden retriever" is an in-joke for those who know Wall Street. The term refers to the blonde-haired, "clubbable", not-too-bright salesman who are the public face for investment banks which are really run by the sharp-eyed, gruff-speaking traders upstairs on the trading floors. The golden retrievers are friendly and presentable but not really in charge.

Ray Sawhill said...

Smart and funny review.

"One subtle message is that the most lucrative jobs in today’s economy are open only to those few individuals comfortable—intellectually, emotionally, and morally—working at stratospheric levels of abstraction. As happened during the mortgage bubble, these elites lose contact with what’s happening at ground level."

That's especially brilliant.

Kylie said...

"Irons is still doing that Bela-Lugosi-playing-Richard-Nixon routine that won him the Oscar for his portrayal of Claus von B├╝low in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune, and I hope he never stops."

I wish he would. It was funny in that film but increasingly just seems lazily hammy. Still, I suppose it's better than Jack Nicholson doing his Dennis Hopper-playing-John Drew Barrymore routine or Al Pacino doing his Rod Steiger-playing-Lee J. Cobb routine.

Jacob Roberson said...

Steve keeps taking me back to the statistics of bunting. Think I'll finally read up on it today.

Anonymous said...

"One subtle message is that the most lucrative jobs in today’s economy are open only to those few individuals comfortable—intellectually, emotionally, and morally—working at stratospheric levels of abstraction. As happened during the mortgage bubble, these elites lose contact with what’s happening at ground level."



I don't think that there were any "stratospheric levels of abstraction" going on in the mortgage bubble, or going on in Wall Street in general. Because these people make such ungodly amounts of money there's a tendency to think that they must be intellectual titans. The reality is that it takes a special kind of stupidity to lose money in banking.

Luke Lea said...

Just saw "Smartest Guys in the Room" for the first time, about the mind=bogglingly audacious fraudsters at Enron. A lot of these types -- most, all ? -- are sociopaths pure and simple. Even Larry Summers fills the bill, or so I am beginning to think.

Another interesting factoid: the female v.p. at Enron who finally blue the whistle I knew about already, but the twenty-something female reporter at Forbes who cracked them wide open is news to me. That brings the total number of heroines in the great financial crisis up to, what, 7 or 8? Versus one or two males. Steve should do a story on the gender disparity.

Luke Lea said...

"blue the whistel," "blew the whistle," what the hell.

Steve Sailer said...

Luke:

Who are the heroes? Harry Markopolous comes to mind, but not too many others.

Luke Lea said...

Who are the heroes? Beats me. Bernie Sanders made a pretty good speech on the floor of the Senate. I'm half way through Suskind's "Confidence Men." Maybe another will show up, but it is not looking good.

Among the women, I'm no expert. But the Cantwell woman, senator from Washington State, get's a very positive review by Susskind, which looks well deserved. You probably know about the rest, maybe more than I do. Warren, the woman in charge of FDIC, the woman who tried to resist the combined forces of Rubin, Summers, and what's-his-name who was running the Fed against deregulation of derivatives. So that's up to five. And this in a male dominated world, both hormonally and numerically.

Luke Lea said...

Incidentally, are all these women shicksas? Not sure.

Luke Lea said...

Oh, and one point that came out in the Enron movie: Skillern and a lot of his underlings and partners in crime were former nerds (according to those who were in the know) who decided to put on superman suits for some reason. Got rid of their eyeglasses, started bodybuilding, driving fast cars, extreme sports, it's all in there.

Anonymous said...

"Smartest Guys" isn't bad for an intro to Enron but leaves much to be desired. It doesn't even do justice to the McLean-Elkind book, and the former is on-screen virtually narrating the movie for half of it. They do botch certain matters, such as the prevalence of mark-to-market accounting, the supposed helplessness of Gray Davis/PUC, and the degree of Lou Pai's involvement in Fastow-created shell corporations (although that does give them an excuse to use random stock video from a strip club early in the film)

Peter A said...

". A running joke in Margin Call is that each higher-up understands the statistics less than his underling."

It's funny, but is that really true? My experience in the real world is that senior execs in I-banking, private equity, management consulting and law are generally MORE knowledgeable than their underlings. In cases where they are not, they would certainly never admit it openly. I assumed Wall Street worked the same way.

Anonymous said...

If the writer and director wants to convince people that it is not a Lehman story then he might've wanted to not name the CEO in his story John Tuld which is quite similar to the former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld.

green mamba said...

No other film of this type is going to match the script of Moneyball, which was written by Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote Social Network. I've never seen a better-written film, whose subject could have been such a snoozer.

I thought Money ball was a bit of a snoozer and I dislike Sorkin's aggressively middlebrow sensibility and pedantic style, which insists on showing and explaining all themes, as if to children, instead of allowing them to emerge more organically and intelligently.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, but exactly how should the theme of the importance of on-base percentage emerge organically? I agree, that would be best, but how?

green mamba said...

I wasn't referring to the more technical baseball stuff, which actually did need explaining and should have been explained better. On base percentage is referred to, but mostly the statistical stuff is soft-pedalled into presenting the acquired players as a lovable ragtag bunch who are underrated because they are damaged, eccentric and look funny, sort of like the Bad News Bears.

green mamba said...

I liked Sorkin's "Charlie Wilson's War", btw, which was a very entertaining movie. But at the end Sorkin tries to present a message about how we messed up in Afghanistan - something about how we didn't build enough schools - and ends up looking pedantic and silly. He also completely misinterprets the Buddhist parable he puts into Philip Seymour Hoffman's mouth.

Charlotte said...

Catherin Austin Fitts should be on anyone's hero list of persons who bucked the financial system. Jack Kemp once counseled her, in an avuncular capacity, that she should her skirts longer. Or was it shorter? I forget. Anyway, she was rich when she got on board the first Bush administration at HUD, & tried to audit the Fed. All hell ensued and she was v. nearly ruined.
She saved her fortune just barely, and her sense of humour entirely.
Amazing individual, and v. brave. She faced some nasty pieces of work.

Anonymous said...

Wolcott on Margin Call