by Noel Hurde
The Big Short Review
Despite a brief mention by presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, the banks’ bailout in 2008 has virtually eroded from today’s headlines. Nevertheless, those affected by the housing crisis in those days may find The Big Short a fresh wound reopened—reminded of how the bailout, inevitably, left the common homeowner (virtually exempt from governmental intervention) feeling short changed.
The film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ eponymous book, directed and co-written by Adam McKay, is a startling glimpse into the housing market crisis of 2008. Based on actual events, the film follows multiple characters on the sidelines of the action on Wall Street during the height of the housing mortgage fiasco. Ostensibly, these players were each in their own capacity privy to the circumstances that would result in the mortgage bubble that left millions of homeowners in financial ruin. Dr. Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale, an oblong character, with odd idiosyncrasies abundant (not to mention a glass eye) is a genius mathematical whiz who invests early in the subprime loan market after he realizes the possible returns he can make on his investment. Mark Baum , played by comedian, Steve Carell, a fit-to-pop hedge fund manager, inadvertently learns of Jared Vennett’s (Ryan Gosling) plans to invest, who he himself has learned what he knows from impromptu eavesdropping. To round out the cast, eager beavers Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are young Wall Street leeches who themselves get wind of Vennett’s papers. Inexperienced in the securing the right trades to cash in on the possible credit default swaps, they harangue retired banking trader, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), to ensure all goes smoothly. It’s a whirlwind of circular financial pirating. That is not to say that they swashbucklers wrangle with the law. Everything here is legal. The film’s moral, if it can be said to have one, wagers the value of accruing exponential wealth through deplorable means against the unfathomable damage such an action stands to enact upon millions if carried out. What Carrell’s character learns, is that as far as the banks are concerned, the latter is worth chancing.
The film is a harrowing piece of escapist sadomasochism; pulling the audience through a gripping piece of well-acted, directed, and for the most part, well-written docudrama that exhumes the horrors of banking shiftlessness, which for the millions of homeowners and taxpayers this crisis affected, may be too queasy an ordeal to undertake as yet.
As a warning, there must be said something regarding the financial jargon utilized in the film. The Big Short makes several attempts to explain complicated concepts with celebrity cameos– using fourth-wall breaks to indulge in explanations. For some set-ups these cutaways assist the audience in deriving some partial grasp on convoluted terms. This, regrettably, isn’t enough for financing laymen. Much of the script is pickled in obtuse fiscal rhetoric. It becomes easy to get lost among the swarms of “derivatives,” “futures trading,” and “collateralized debt obligations” and not even a cameo by Selena Gomez, a former Disney Channel sweetheart, can soften the mind-crushingly dull, complicated, and specific financial vocabulary. But isn’t that the point (and one of the film’s character realizes this), that those doing all the string-pulling, know exactly what to do to mystify the masses. The big banks and the film itself share a sort of eerie resemblance: they bludgeon the layman with ridiculously rich technobabble—serving up a pipping delicious taste of The American Dream. Only it’s too white-hot to touch comfortably, not without some serious self-injury.