The Big Short is a movie about the 2007~2009 Global Financial Crisis, with an ensemble cast that included Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt and a host of cameos. It’s directed by Adam McKay, best known for his work on the Anchorman movies and last year’s MARVEL Blockbuster Ant-Man, and produced by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment (so Brad’s got a lot of his own money invested in this one).
The story of this version of the GFC is a little different from the one most people know, and is based on the book by Michael Lewis (who is famous for his other books/movies The Blind Side and Moneyball). So in all, there is some serious Hollywood talent involved here, both in front of and behind the camera.
Most people are aware that the 2007~2009 Global Financial Crisis was caused by the greed of Wall Street selling and re-selling bonds based on American mortgages. However, due to everyone’s desire to make lots and lots of money (mostly via commission), these mortgages over the years became more and more risky, and nonviable. So when those home loans were unable to be repaid and collapsed, so did the bonds based on those mortgages, and thus the GFC occurred.
This movie tells that story from a different perspective though – it’s is about the few small groups of financial wizards who saw the GFC coming well before anyone else did, and then cannily bought mortgage bond insurance (which had never been done before) against the time when those mortgages would fail. Wall Street laughed at them and took their money for that insurance (which was in the millions) – after all, these guys were betting against the might of the American Economy, or “shorting” it. These few guys were complete idiots, right? Wrong. As the American and the World Economy tanked, these ‘little guys’ made lots and lots of money as a result. A tragic situation to make their money in this way, but very smart to do so. You’ll be screaming at Wall Street and the big corporate wan….. errr… bankers who believed that they were infallible in all that they did in their quest to make more and more money.
The story is told in 3 sub-stories: Christian Bale is Dr Michael Burry, the first investment guru to spot the GFC coming, years out, and then being the first to ask for mortgage bond insurance. Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell form part of the second story, with Gosling’s character catching wind of what Dr Burry was up to and then bringing in Mark Baum’s (Carell’s) small investment firm to take out their own insurance. And the third sub-story tells of two ‘garage investors’ (guys who play the stock market from their garage at home) who caught wind of what Burry and Baum were doing, and then set out with a former investment guru of their own (Brad Pitt) to short the mortgage bond market themselves.
Bale, Gosling and Pitt have smallish roles on screen, and they do very well in their parts, but given the size of these roles, nearly anyone could have played those characters. For me, Steve Carell was the star of this movie, proving once again he’s not just a comedic actor, handling this meaty, dramatic role with aplomb. I swear you’ll be cheering for him as the film goes on. The storylines of Mark Baum and his investment firm and the ‘garage investors’ are brilliant, and Bale’s tale of Dr Michael Burry is interwoven between those other two plots. There are also several cameos spaced throughout the movie which also help explain really well what happened to cause the GFC. By the end, you’ll wonder how everyone on Wall Street wasn’t charged with fraud and thrown in jail.
I love intelligent films. The Big Short is a very intelligent film. It has a lot of humour in it, and director Adam McKay has created a brilliant production – it’s no surprise to me that the film is nominated for Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Lewis), Best Director (Adam McKay), Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Best Picture at the Academy Awards in a couple of weeks time.
By David Emms