It's set on Wall Street, 2008, hours before everything goes to hell. Stanley Tucci is a longtime, high-level guy at an unnamed firm who's let go, given six months severance and shown the door by security moments later. His firing is one of many in the office and the higher-ups call it a "bloodbath," not realizing that it's really only a light blood-shower compared to what's coming next.
On his way out Tucci hands his work files to Zachary Quinto -- a former rocket scientist chasing a better paycheck in the financial sector -- and tells him to try to make sense of the project's secret doomsday information. And since the real global economic meltdown already happened, you already know what those files are about: the firm's assets are in trouble and the only solution is to run the whole thing into the ground, cheat everybody out of their investments and skulk away with big bonuses. Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker and Demi Moore are all in on the plan, while Quinto stands back and wonders aloud, stupidly, given the sharks he's swimming with, if it's morally correct that people should be making crazy amounts of money for all this.
It's a tightly enclosed movie. All the better to make the characters (and you) feel trapped like rats. Everything happens in awful looking offices and the grim, locked-in atmosphere suggests a terse, tough-minded stage play transferred to the screen. Meanwhile, every icy move in the brutal game is committed by charcoal-hearted characters who've been so stripped of whatever personalities they might have arrived with at their first day on the job, that a running joke in the film -- the same one originally used in both the book and film versions of the gory '80s satire American Psycho, by the way -- is the inability of executives to remember each others' names. They actually make Patrick Bateman seem like the better man to hang out with: he might be a cannibalistic serial killer but at least he's got a hobby besides fraud and theft.
So no, there's nobody here to root for except Kevin Spacey. That's right, Kevin Spacey is the nice guy in this movie and even he's part of the problem. And, honestly, while this is a high quality film, well-directed, well-acted and mostly lacking annoying hindsight preaching, it's kind of tough to muster enthusiasm for viewing a fictionalized, micro-level, salt-in-the-wound account of the disaster that drove the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Worse, as repellent as the players here are (sample dialogue: "What is 'right' can take on multiple interpretations.") they can't come close to the real thing. You want to see some genuinely scary, infuriating monsters with liquid nitrogen in their veins? Men still roaming the streets in search of more fresh kill? Check out the documentary Inside Job. That's terror.