The Big Short
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Duration: 130 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
The global economic market crash of 2008, whose effects are still being felt today, was certainly no joke, especially not for the millions of ordinary citizens worldwide who suffered major losses of some sort. Yet, The Big Short takes a darkly comic look at the darkest period of recent world economic history, with its ensemble of eccentric characters, who anticipated the bursting of the housing market bubble which would set the ball rolling on the eventual collapse of the entire economic system.
The film is based on the non-fiction book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, which focuses on the handful of these real-life financial and banking practitioners (described in the movie as ‘outsiders and weirdos’).
Seeing a way to make very big bucks, against all common sense and practice they bet all that they have on the fact that the housing market would eventually collapse. What emerges is an oftentimes perplexing yet scathing indictment of the banking and financial industry; made entertaining thanks to its stellar cast.
Initiating proceedings with his madcap moneymaking scheme is misanthrope money manager Michael Burry, whose casual dress mode and social inadequacies hide a brilliant financial mind. It is a character Christian Bale tackles with his trade-mark intensity.
Ryan Gosling slips into the slick suits of suave banker Jared Vennett with consummate ease – and also serves as the movie’s narrator, often breaking the fourth wall to introduce a character or explain an issue.
Steve Carell is a delight as manic hedge-fund manager Mark Baum, a man recovering from a personal tragedy; and one torn between his desire to succeed in his job and his repugnance at the unfettered of his industry. It is a role that once more allows the comedian to display his not inconsiderable dramatic chops. Brad Pitt is the grizzled ex-banker who serves as mentor to newbie money managers Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (John Magaro).
An oftentimes perplexing yet scathing indictment of the banking and financial industry
It is commendable that the protagonists are not necessarily presented as knights in shining armour. They are all players within the industry themselves and not exactly examples of moral uprightness. True, they ultimately plan to make money off their scheme; yet they recognise the fraud and corruption at the core of the market, and they are ultimately contemptuous of their targets: Wall Street’s major players whose greed, immorality, and (as often stressed in the film) stupidity led to the meltdown.
It is a film that is being celebrated, as can be attested by its five Oscar nominations. Yet, entertaining though it is, it is likely that the financial jargon will boggle the minds of the average movie viewer. It certainly boggled mine. Terminology like subprime mortgage-bond market, collateralised debt obligation and credit default swap peppers the dialogue. It often makes little sense and leads to some head-scratching moments.
That one of the characters at one point asks “What the hell is going on?” is indicative of the intricacy of the plot and its underlying concepts. One character comments that the banking industry deliberately makes things complicated to take advantage of consumers… so the filmmakers step in to help by having some famous faces pop up at intervals to explain some of the jargon.
For example, Margot Robbie, who starred in The Wolf of Wall Street, helpfully gives the audience a few pointers… while sipping champagne in a bubble bath, as one does. Although this is quirky gimmick, it doesn’t go far quite enough and some viewers may feel alienated by having to work so hard to keep up and understand the underpinnings of a very complex industry.
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