Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost a decade since the economic meltdown that nearly tanked the world economy. “The Big Short”, based off the Michael Lewis nonfiction book of the same name, tackles this crisis. Even if the explanation of the financial crisis might still make your head spin, it’s broken down to a point where it’s much easier to understand what happened. More importantly, it’ll make you mad as hell.
The film centers around a number of different threads. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who leads the hedge fund Scion Capital, finds a way to potentially make a huge amount of money by betting against the housing market. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who also serves as the narrator/Greek chorus of the movie, is a trader who dives into the kind of activities that Burry is engaging in. Caught up in this as well is another hedge fund manager, Steve Baum (Steve Carell). Meanwhile, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who are trying to get their feet in the door of the financial world, also get involved with the scheme of betting against the housing market, and call upon former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get rich.
The housing crisis is explained throughout the film in a simple to understand way. The film also has the benefit of recruiting celebrity cameos such as Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to help break down what all of this means. For example, Gomez’s cameo deals with a particular kind of activity that investors were delving in, using her playing blackjack as an example. It sort of plays out like this: Gomez is on a winning streak, and someone places a bet on her winning, out of the conviction that she’ll win because of her performance. What at least some of these investors were doing, in a sense, were placing bets on the initial bet for even greater returns. Of course, these bets only have a return if what you placed a bet on delivers. If she loses, and the example shows her losing, not only does the first bet lose money, but the domino effect leaves the people who placed even more money on your bet in even worse shape. So when the housing market collapsed, the damage was astronomical.
What Burry, Baum and the others were doing were betting against the housing market that inevitably collapsed, and received massive returns by betting against what, quite frankly, was criminal activity.
You have to see the film to understand it better. But honestly, you just need to see the film in general. It will make you angry, and it will take everything you have to not scream at the movie for exposing what kind of activities the financial industry was delving into. It’s hard to call Burry, Baum and the others heroes because they were betting on the economy going under. Of course, none of this would have happened in the first place if the financial industry didn’t become the epitome of everything that’s wrong with our country’s brand of capitalism. (For further evidence, watch “Wolf of Wall Street”.) However, as Vennett briefly described at the beginning of the film, Wall Street was a much different place back in the day. In real life, a series of events (including the deregulation of the financial industry) led us to where we are today. Quite frankly, if you don’t have a cemented opinion about Wall Street or modern American capitalism as of now, this movie is for you.
We all know how the story ended. The economy tanked as the housing market collapsed and companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers folded, but despite all the obvious criminal activity that was taking place in the financial industry, Wall Street got bailed out and almost every individual involved has not been convicted as of today. This is why this movie is so important. It’s also perfectly timed, as we’re in an election year and we need to consider who among the remaining roster of candidates is best at dealing with the issue of Wall Street. Also given the news about China’s recent economic troubles, the movie plays even better. If things get worse for China (which, I should point out, has enjoyed enormous economic growth and global economic importance thanks to its becoming a more capitalist country over the last few decades), we just might find ourselves in another economic crisis. Just let that sink in for a moment.
As for the movie itself, it’s very well done. The performances are solid all-around, but Carell in particular shines as Baum, who ironically harbors a remarkable amount of cynicism towards the very industry he works in and hasn’t been handling the suicide of his brother in a very good way. However, the star of this movie is Adam McKay, who directed the movie and co-wrote it with Charles Randolph. McKay seems to be a weird choice for this kind of movie, given his previous credits which include being a co-founder of the website Funny or Die and movies such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. However, McKay (who’s also a SNL alum) is surprisingly well-suited for the task. Instead of letting the movie become bogged down by all the obscure details, he frames the story and information in a way that’s relatively easy to understand and compelling.
After seeing this, some part of you will want “The Big Short” to win Best Picture, if only for the fact that it winning might inspire more people to watch it. It might not be strong enough as a movie or just not strong enough to beat back the momentum of other contenders like “The Revenant”, but no matter what happens, “The Big Short” is a must-see film.