Every now and then it’s good to see a movie on the big screen that is not a spectacle event kinda thing. But a movie with a serious topic and something that makes you think. The Big Short is that kind of movie. At the end it makes you wonder about a lot of things. And there is a good chance it makes you angry. Very angry.
The movie tells the story of a couple of men who invested (or bet) a lot of money against the banking establishment and their common practices. We all know what happened in 2007 when the housing bubble collapsed and sent the whole world into a financial crisis we still have not recovered from. And how things look now this crisis in 2007 may have just been the indicator to much more troubled times that lie ahead of us. But that’s speculation on my part. The thing is that we all know that something bad happened back then, but only a few people really understood the why. For most of us it was enough to know that greed driven banks and bankers caused this collapse, that made a lot of already poor people poorer and even homeless. The Big Short is now trying to explain the background to the ‘why’ this all happened. And it does a fairly good job.
The first one to discover that there was something fishy going on was a fonds manager named Michael Burry (Christian Bale). He’s someone that has a great eye for numbers and calculations. He recognizes that banks handle certain housing businesses in a very suspicious way. He soon understood that this construct will not hold forever and that a lot of money will vanish into nothing. Except if you invest money (it’s crazy that this is even possible) into the logic consequence that this crash will eventually happen – no matter what. It’s basically a bet against the house (or the banks). So Michael sees his chance and invests everything he can on his prediction that the housing market will collapse. He goes around visiting other banks and tells them what he’s going to do and gets laughed at for his foresight. This is the time when other folks get wind of his idea and start to investigate. That’s when Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) finds out about it and also tries to find people to bet against the banks along with him. He finds Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his gang of traders. They are very suspicious at first and start to look into the housing market. It doesn’t take them very long to understand that there is a bubble, full of very thin air, that will eventually collapse in on itself. So they decide to trust Vennett and look for investors as well. In the mean time we learn a lot about how this market works and what all went wrong.
The characters in this movie are for certain no heroes. They are a big part of the problem that is explained in this film. Even if they’re working their whole life in that business, they still cannot believe how fucked up the situation had become, when it was presented to them. All it needed was to take a slightly closer look at the material. Most bankers were too lazy to do that. No interest because… the money was flowing. No one wants to ruin a party, right? So some of our protagonists really struggle with their decisions. And the movie does a good job of explaining why. In the end you could argue that our protagonists are the same breed of assholes that originally created that housing market bubble. Because what kind of human being would set a bet on the fact that a lot of other people will have ruined lives. These guys may be rich now but are they be able to really enjoy the money they made?
The movie is directed by Adam McKay who previously directed the Anchorman movies. The first Anchorman is a comedy classic and the second one was alright (in my opinion) too. So he took a 180° turn with the decision to tackle a movie like The Big Short. I have to applaud him for that. This movie wasn’t an easy task but he certainly made it work. Not only with a serious topic but also entertaining and fresh. The film presents itself with a lot of kinetic energy, quick cuts and jumps, with an almost documentary kind of feel here and there. You need to watch this film with open eyes though. Otherwise I can see how you would end up very confused in a rather short amount of time. The more than 2hrs runtime fly by though. You are bombarded with information and background knowledge about the market and how it all works. I cannot say that I fully understood everything the movie was trying to explain but I was certainly sure how most of it worked by the time the end credits rolled. It was frustrating and leaves you shaking your head. All this ignorance and greed at display there. A harsh reality.
The trading business is like Las Vegas. There is a set of rules for all kinds of different games. But still almost unlimited ways to lose or win money. The sad thing is that no one learned from what happened in 2007. The practices are still the same. And the people who already have nothing, still pay for what the banks do and end up with even more nothing. So the big lesson of the movie seems to be that the system certainly works (in it’s own corrupted and mutated ways). It’s just how we treat that system that makes it counterproductive for all the people who are not in that business. And that’s a lot of people.
If you have a chance… go see this film. The film does get criticized for its appearance. Yes, it’s loud and shiny and in your face… but it needs to be. That’s how you get an audience today. It definitely needs more people to know how banks fuck up our world and continue to do so. I was very happy to see lots of poeple showing up to see this film. All of them left entertained and frustrated at the same time. But also a little more understanding.