Monday, February 8, 2016
The Big Short
The Big Short had a lot of stuff working against it as I entered the theater. I'd not been excited by the trailers. It was directed by Adam McKay, whose previous films were all Will Ferrell vehicles, and as much as I like those movies he was obviously going to be out of his depth when trying to tackle a drama about the recent housing and world financial crisis. McKay had assembled a terrific cast: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, I even saw the ageless Marisa Tomei in the trailer. Yet I wasn't excited to see the movie. But when it came out, it inexplicably got really good reviews and was nominated for a handful of Oscars, including big ones like Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and even Best Picture. That's not an immediate indication of quality, but it at least makes me want to check out a movie if it gets that kind of awards love. I was blown away by what I saw. This movie is intelligent, irreverent, entertaining as hell, righteously angry, and ultimately tragic and thoroughly disgusted in our system.
A bestseller by Michael Lewis (also the author of bestsellers Moneyball and The Blind Side), The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine has been adapted for the screen by Charles Randolph and re-written by McKay (credited as co-writers) and it's a very tricky adaptation. The movie shares plenty of similarities with Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but where that movie cared little for the details of how common people got screwed over by Wall Street and instead focused on the monstrous (and often hilariously entertaining) behavior of its drug addled main characters, McKay wants to explain to you as best he can just exactly what happened and how. This may make it sounded dry and boring, but it isn't at all, it's quietly exhilarating. McKay wants us to understand the terms the banks and investors use, terms we think we don't understand simply because the system is designed to keep us thinking the banks are the only ones who understand what all that shit means. But as the crisis, and this movie, point out: the banks and investors often didn't really understand what the fuck any of it meant either. They just wanted you to sign on the dotted line and get out of their office. You're just a number in their own bank account.
There's really no point in trying to recap the plot, as the explanations become labyrinthine quickly. But the movie follows a handful of guys betting against the housing market when that seemed an insane investment. The housing market has always been one of the most stable in America, and these guys are investing millions of dollars betting that it will fail. This is all based on the work of Dr. Michael Burry (Bale), who simply sees an investment opportunity because he's crunched the numbers no one else has bothered to even really look at. Then guys like Jared Vennett (Gosling), Mark Baum (Carell), Ben Rickert (Pitt) and others are pulled into the crazy idea of making upwards of 200 to 1 returns on their investments.
Eventually, as we know, the market did collapse. It takes a while though, as McKay furiously shows us that Wall Street was propped up by the American system. It's almost too depressing to even break down how these banks lied to us, cheated us out of untold billions of dollars (or more), took people's homes, and yet the government did nothing but give them more money. Not even a fucking slap on the wrist. Not the breaking down of the banks, not letting them fail in the real capitalist free market way they should've failed, not taken over by the government, or even better regulated by the government. Just a disgusting hemorrhaging of money to save these people that wasted money over and over again.