Review: ‘The Big Short’ Exposes The Gambles Of Greed
The race to the Oscars is heating up, and one film that is strong in the running is Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Nominated for a total of five awards it chronicles the stories of 4 parties that foresaw the 2008 housing market collapse which had serious international ramifications. Jam packed with star quality, and hosting boat loads of acting talent, the movie is perhaps the best depiction of the 2008 financial crisis, but also goes well out of its way to explain to the average joe how the collapse actually happened. We’re also given a first-hand look into the banks’ role in greed throughout corporate America.
CAUTION: Potential spoilers ahead:
The story revolves around 5 characters; Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric hedge fund manager, Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a neurotic manager of a successful Wall Street hedge fund, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a bond salesman at Deutsche Bank, and lastly business partners Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock). Bale’s character is the one who discovers the looming market failure, and sees a way to invest in the credit default swap, in this case placing a bet that will return multiple times over should the market collapse. Vennett hears of this strategy and convinces Baum and his hedge fund to follow suit. Lastly, Geller and Shipley stumble upon one of Vennett’s files detailing the strategy and also jump on board, with the guidance of weathered ex-banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).
There is obviously a lot of lingo that flies straight over one’s head unless accustomed to the bond market world, but the director does a good job of explaining potential dizzying situations with guest appearances by celebrities such as Selena Gomez and famous chef Anthony Bourdain. Speaking of the director, people will know Adam McKay primarily for his collaborations with Will Farrell, and while The Big Short has a far darker subject matter than all the films McKay’s previously written and directed, he manages to take a solemn topic and inject a masterful comedic tone. Some would be forgiven for believing the topic at hand should have been addressed with a more severe tenor, but when the severity of the impact on Middle America needs to be made clear the movie manages to jump out of its light mood and pack a punch.
There are many themes at play during the 130 minutes of running time, however it’s the themes of greed and gambling that are the clear motivators. We’re shown a detailed scenario of how banks started giving mortgages to anyone who applied for one, and how the entire system was essentially set up to turn the market into one big bet. Ironically, while the main characters are exposing the banks for their greed and willingness to gamble, they themselves are exploiting a situation in which they will enrich themselves and customers of their hedge funds, disregarding the facts that people are likely to lose their homes in the near future. They are also gambling on the theory that the market will collapse, just as the banks for gambling with their subprime loans.
When watching the movie, it is hard to believe what the USA deems acceptable in finance terms. For example, online gambling which has limited, to almost no consequences on the economy, is illegal, leading Americans to look at Canadian sites such as MobileCasinoCanada.ca. However, witnessing what was allowed to be implemented by big banks in the lead up the crash in 2008 is quite astounding. What is further astonishing is that there were people who figured out what was coming, and instead of people listening to what they had to say they chose to ignore the warnings.
The movie is abundant in great characters and quirky lines, while McKay’s screenplay and direction play to the actor’s strengths in their respective roles. Even with the emphasis on explaining what was happening in finance terms one can’t quite help the fact that there is only so much you can understand unless you are in the finance industry. For this matter, it’s important that there remains a valid story behind the production, and the movie doesn’t start to feel like a documentary. Thankfully, it doesn’t, and we start to feel the stress and emotion of the characters when it looks touch and go as to whether the collapse will actually happen, resulting in them losing all their money as opposed to millions of people losing everything. One can only subtly concede that you are rooting for antiheroes, hoping their gamble pays off while the greed of the banks comes back around to bite them where it hurts.
Although the movie ends with the accustomed pre-credits conclusion texts, which is standard with true story biopics, it is the unbelievable events leading up to the films ending which leaves you pondering more than the future happenings of the main characters. The Big Short can’t be remembered for any specific great moment in film, however the cast and crew come together in a highly effective way to make sure that we receive a well-structured and well-acted dark comedy, but will have people talking more about the greed and stupidity of the era than the admiration of the film-making.