In 2011, J.C. Chandor, a first-time director, debuted his film, Margin Call, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It was there that he became acquainted with Robert Redford, who would go on to star in his follow-up feature, and watched movie, All is Lost.
The well-received but modest-grossing film tracks a fictional investment banking firm in New York City caught at the precipice of collapse during the financial crisis of 2007 and ’08. In it, Zachary Quinto plays a rocket scientist-turned-risk-analyst who helps uncover a seismic error in the company’s financial projections that spells certain doom for the firm and the world. And he does so while wearing a blacked-out, stylish chronograph from a certain automotive-focused design outfit.
Why We’re Watching
In case you missed it, our own James Stacey went on a dreamy trip into the mountains of Austria, driving vintage Porsches and capturing Porsche Design watches – among others – with his camera (and talented eye). Seriously, if you haven’t yet checked out his stunning photography, go take a look. I figured it would be a good time to return to the world of Porsche Design for this week’s installment since the last time we did so was for the release of Top Gun: Maverick. The good folks over at The Ringer also put up an episode of their popular Rewatchables podcast featuring this Margin Call. And to add insult to injury, this writer just happened to walk past another star of the film, Penn Badgley, in the streets of Brooklyn last weekend, so the timing is right on all accounts to showcase this movie.
In the tradition of such films as Wall Street, this film tackles capitalism in its rawest form. It serves as a mirror to our reality by focusing on the economic turmoil caused by the over-investment in mortgage-backed securities in the late aughts just before the collapse. Quinto’s character, Peter Sullivan, is handed a USB drive by his recently laid-off boss Eric Dale (played by Stanley Tucci) just before he exits the building. “Be careful,” Dale says to him before the elevators close. Sullivan proceeds to finish a financial model from that USB stick and finds that things are very wrong. What comes next is a thrilling 90 minutes of moviemaking set in a single evening. We watch as the upper 1 percent of the 1 percent try to make sense of their own failures in an attempt to lose as little money as possible in the face of global economic meltdown. Forget about society, they’re looking after their bottom line.
And in a universe where people as wealthy and powerful as those in Margin Call would likely be outfitted with the hautest of horology, Quinto’s Sullivan wears a fairly modest, blacked-out Porsche Design Chronograph, what appears to be the P6612 on an integrated rubber strap with a deployant clasp. Now there are other more expensive watches seen in this movie such as an IWC Portuguese Chrono and what appears to be a two-tone Rolex Submariner. But it’s Sullivan’s Porsche Design that stands out among the rest, and it’s the only one that gets a true hero shot. In many ways, this watch says a lot about his character. He’s a former rocket scientist – not of this world. And the PD is a reminder of that.
Porsche Design’s history with chronograph watches dates back to the early 1970s with the Chronograph 1, known for its black PVD case and matching bracelet. In present day, the watch has become something of an icon in its own right and was recently revived in a limited edition run by the brand, with more watches of that ilk on the horizon. Sullivan’s PD Chrono looks nothing like the OG Chronograph 1 but you can see the design lineage via the all-black aesthetic. It doesn’t call too much attention to itself, and its overall darkness is a thematic match for the film’s plot.
Margin Call is something of an underrated modern classic. It’s quiet, serious, and challenges the audience. It’s a movie I’ll certainly be revisiting, and not just for the watches.
When We’re Watching
Shortly after receiving the USB drive from Dale, Sullivan decides to stay late at the office and dig into the drive’s mysterious contents. In a montage sequence backed by a pretty standard mid-2000s indie-folk song, we see him toiling on the computer, biting his nails, and looking generally uncomfortable. The scene is in a haze to heighten the drama and we then get a close-up of the Porsche Design Chrono [00:17:38] indicating that it’s almost three o’clock in the morning. And the evening is only just beginning.
After breaking the news to his bosses about the impending demise of the firm, a middle-of-the-night meeting is called to begin damage control. The entire C-suite arrives and pressure-tests the data uncovered on the USB stick. It is quickly determined that the best course of action is to sell off – completely – every mortgage-backed security held by the company. In a quiet scene toward the end of the second act [01:01:16], we see Sullivan sitting with his colleagues, nervously awaiting more news. He checks the time before asking if he can step outside to get some air. He knows what’s to come, and wants to mentally prepare.
Margin Call (starring Zachary Quinto) is directed by J.C. Chandor with props by Michael Cory. It’s available to stream on Netflix and to rent on iTunes or Amazon.
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For more information about Porsche Design watches, visit their website.