In 2009, when director J.C. Chandor and producers Zachary Quinto and Neal Dodson were trying to raise the financing for "Margin Call," their $3.4-million thriller about the 2008 financial crisis, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that audiences were likely to lose interest in Wall Street stories.
"The initial response from agents was, 'You know they’re making 'Wall Street 2,' right?'" said Dodson. Also in the works were other downturn-focused projects, such as "Company Men," "Inside Job," Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" and HBO's "Too Big to Fail." "They’re like, 'Can the market hold another film about this subject?'"
Fast-forward two years and "Margin Call," which opens Oct. 21 and stars Quinto, Penn Badgley, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany as investment bank workers on the eve of the crisis, is starting to look perfectly timed as the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to grow.
The protest movement, now in its fourth week since launching in New York City's Zuccotti Park in mid-September, has grown from its downtown Manhattan roots to include several other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The chief complaint of the protesters — that government and financial sector policies contribute to income inequality — is addressed by "Margin Call," in which Quinto plays a financial analyst who makes a frightening discovery about his firm's overly optimistic economic projections.
"None of us could have anticipated the timing, with Occupy Wall Street happening right now and all of these people rising up to demand that this be looked at and dealt with," Quinto said in an interview at the Silver Lake offices of his production company, Before the Door, last week. "It’s incredibly vitalizing for me to have this upheaval and all this attention being paid to this sector of the culture. I feel really energized by that."
Quinto was on his way to New York to promote the film, where his costar, Badgley, has already visited the Occupy Wall Street protests to take in the scene.
"I’m not opposed to going down there myself and seeing what the energy is like and talking to people," Quinto said. "I can just imagine myself handing out fliers for 'Margin Call,' like, 'If you’re unhappy… .' We’ll see. Hopefully they’ll find their own way to it. "
While "Margin Call" attempts to explain the human choices that helped create the current economic malaise, that doesn't necessarily mean that financially frustrated audiences will rush to see it.
"It’s a little nerve-racking," said Chandor, who wrote the script and whose father worked in the financial industry. "This is essentially a character piece. It’s trying to look into why people make the decisions that they do. In a lot of cases it’s not about pure greed. We hope there’s not fatigue, that people aren’t seeing so much mayhem in their real lives that they aren’t willing to see this movie."
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Zachary Quinto, left, and Penn Badgley in "Margin Call." Credit: Walter Thomson.