Never mind betting against the housing market crash of 2007; one thing I would not have risked my money on would be the frankly outrageous gamble that Adam Mckay, he of the mostly dubious Will Ferrell vehicles, would direct a smart and funny movie about the beginnings of the Global Financial Crisis. That’s why I, along with Mark Wahlberg, am not a gambler.
Based on Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short tells the story of a handful of enterprising bankers and investors who correctly predicted the US housing market crash and pocketed a fortune betting against the market. This may be a slightly jazzed-up version of events, but it’s important to remember that this, for all intents and purposes, did happen. The Big Short is a blackly comic tale of corruption, greed and out-and-out fraud rendered all the more intriguing and depressing by virtue of the fact that represents recent history. You’re reminded that the scoundrels who dropped us all in it got away, by and large, scot-free.
The narrative revolves around a cabal of men working in the financial sector who identify a bubble in the housing market and invest in credit default swaps against risky mortgages. Effectively, this means betting against the historically robust market and predicting a catastrophic crash that will cost the economy, and ultimately the globe, billions. Michael Murry (Christian Bale) a heavy metal loving hedge fund manager, investors Charlie (John Magaro) and Jamie (Finn Wittrock), banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and emotionally fragile trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell) all wise-up and bet against the house. Swimming against a tide of professional criticism and a crooked credit rating system that effectively props up worthless loans, the men endure short-term loss and the incredulity of their colleagues before the bubble ultimately bursts.
The Big Short’s real strengths are two-fold. Firstly, in its ability to make a shambolic economic arrangement, full of swindlers and thieves seem inherently amusing, despite its obvious horrendousness. Bale, as the peculiar genius Murry, is note-perfect funny as he awkwardly flits about his office terrifying his investors and confounding his clients. Carell’s angry, suspicious Wall Street manager brings an element of cynicism to the story as he rants about the failings of the system and the greed of the big banks.
Secondly, the movie goes to fairly great lengths to explain the details of the crash in simple terms and make sure its audience is clued-up on the consequences and technicalities of the deals. Halting the narrative flow, with characters breaking the fourth wall and celebrities such as Selena Gomez and a bathing Margot Robbie parachuted in to spell things out, a very complicated subject becomes much easier to comprehend. The effect is a film that tackles a brain-bogglingly difficult subject-matter in an accessible way.
There are elements that don’t click as nicely: Gosling’s narcissist trader feels a tad too obvious and there is perhaps a surfeit of too-similar narrative threads running alongside each other. But this is intelligent and thought-provoking stuff shining a light on unscrupulous practice.
Drama |USA, 2016 | 15 | Paramount Pictures | 22nd January 2016 (UK) |Dir.Adam McKay | Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall, John Marago