The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short
Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Based on: Michael Lewisbook
Cast: Christian BaleSteve Carell, Ryan GoslingBrad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy StrongJohn MagaroFinn Wittrock, Melissa Leo, Karen Gillan, Max GreenfieldBilly Magnussen, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain, Richard Thaler
Seen on: 20.1.2016

Plot:
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) may not have many social skills, but he knows finance. And he knows that something will have to give in the world of finance – and that he can profit from the banks’ greed if he plays his card rights. So he starts betting against banks, assuming that the loans they give out will start to collapse. His tactic becomes known to Wall Street Broker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who approaches fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) with the proposal to do the same. At the same time, college kids Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) enlist veteran investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to join into their own version of Burry’s scheme.

The Big Short treads pretty much the same ground as Margin Call, only that it is much more entertaining and made me understand the bursting of the real estate bubble much more.

thebigshort

I’m usually not a fan of people saying, “look, I know people are stupid and don’t pay attention, so here is the knowledge broken down and adorned with flashing images to make you understand.” I think that it’s a misanthropic and unfair assessment of intelligence, learning and didactics. Unfortunately that is part of the approach here, leading to a film that has no problem whatsoever with showing Margot Robbie naked in a bathtub as the best way to make people sit up in attention as she explains finances. And while I certainly don’t condone the sexism of that particular bit, The Big short did manage to explain the system that led to the financial crisis in 2008 succinctly and understandably – and it would have done so without the explanatory cameo appearances.

The film is certainly not perfect. I haven’t read the book this is based on, but just in the short description on wikipedia, it becomes clear that there was at least one woman, and one man of color among the first to jump on the bandwaggon against the banks. There is no trace of them in the film. They did keep the fact that Burry is disabled (he’s on the autistic spectrum) but other than that it’s all white dudebros, even if not quite up to the usual Wall Street standard of dudebroiness.

thebigshort1The guys here might be painted as heroes a little too much. After all they all profited hugely from it and nobody bothered telling people about it or causing a political stink. That might have been unsuccessful anyway, who knows. But they didn’t even bother trying to warn all those millions who lost their homes and livelihoods. If The Big Short was your only experience of the crisis, you’d barely get an idea that the impact went further than huge banks and some smart guys using them. There are moments, especially from Mark Baum’s mouth, where the entire system is being called into question, but his anger at the system seems so futile and the film – sticking to reality until the end – offers no alternative to or change from the corrupt and maybe even unsalvagable system that led to the crisis in the first place.

But if we put that aside, McKay did manage to create a thoroughly entertaining and frankly funny film that takes a topic that we have often heard is too complicated to understand and makes it understandable to even financial laypersons like myself, pointing out the flaws in how the entire situation was handled. I definitely enjoyed it.

thebigshort2Summarizing: fun enough.

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2 thoughts on “The Big Short (2015)

  1. Ha, I already had totally forgotten about “Margin Call”, that’s how memorable I found it ;). Actually, I had to think more about “The Wolf of Wall Street”, which tonally, this seemed to resemble more than anything else.

    IMHO, “99 Homes” is pretty much the perfect (and even slightly better) companion piece to this, putting flesh on the numbers and putting the victims of this crisis to the foreground. But having seen it at the Viennale, I’m probably not telling you anything new here.

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