A little known fact about me is that my day job is in the financial sector; I am a registered, licensed investment advisor with a serious addiction to cinema. One of the more fun aspects of my job is interacting with clients, especially when we get to talk about a mutual interest such as film. So, when a client advised me this afternoon that I should see ‘The Big Short’, no surprise, I took him up on his word and bolted to the theatre as soon as that clock hit 5pm. This latest Wall Street production is based on a book called ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ by Michael Lewis; a book which spent 28 weeks on the NY Times best-seller list in 2010. It’s a book I’ve actually read twice – due to the heavy use of jargon – but this is actually not even Lewis’ best work, second in my opinion to the immaculately candid publishing ‘Liar’s Poker’. Nevertheless, let me be the first to tell all you nerds and geeks out there that want to garner even a smidgen of a clue as to what happened during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis, that ‘The Big Short’ is the real deal, bonafide beyond its star-studded talent and easily finds its way onto my finance-movie Mount Rushmore along with ‘Wall Street’, ‘Boiler Room’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.
With leads like Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and the incredibly reinvented, super-serious Steve Carrell (far removed from all Michael Scott prejudice), ‘The Big Short’ takes its terrific narrative arc and delivers oceans of drama, hard-hitting financial knowledge, and insight into how fucked up the world economy really is. From Gosling’s smarminess to Brad Pitt’s suaveness to Christian Bale’s zany, cool demeanour, you’ll find the aforementioned fantastic four (not the spandex-clad quartet) to be our story’s heroes in bankrupting the big banks and indicting the true villains of it all. It’s just unfortunate that this was all going on whilst you were probably sinking into terrible debt. ‘The Big Short’ talks fast, so you have to listen, but with clever dialogue and great acting, you’ll be hooked for the entire 130 minutes. There’s a very good reason these guys are getting nominated for every award under the sun.
Now I know most of you readers have no idea what to make of mortgage-backed securities, collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps, or AAA rated tranches and you’re not here for that shit. I’m not here to write the requisite textbook to describe them all for you either. Just know that basically they involve a bank buying the line of credit on your mortgage, your debt, or your own credit then throwing them together in a pool with every other schmuck out there. Based on the likelihood you default on your payments, they sell the pool to investors, hedge funds, or other banks that profit when you fall on hard times and can’t pay your debt. This happened a lot in the early 2000s when mortgage companies threw sub-prime loans at minimum wage earners and the unemployed, who were obviously going to default. It’s bad, bad business and not what I do (thank God, I just give advice). In short, banks were very, very corrupt and now, after the crash, they are better regulated, but still not perfect.
If you haven’t read ‘The Big Short’ yet, and you are a terrific nerd like me, I’d highly recommend it. The book gets much more into the technical vernacular and legalese in a way that the movie manages to present easily with cheery quips, celebrity cameos (including Margot Robbie in a bubble bath) and more reasonable, understandable discourse. It’s a staid, complex subject matter that director Adam McKay is – somewhat surprisingly for a comedy specialist – able to tackle with concise attention to detail and a brilliantly bright energy. This is a non-documentary style explanation of what went down to cause over 4 trillion dollars of pension, 401(k) and real estate money to disappear overnight. For me, this is easily one of the top ten films of 2015 (American cinemas got this late last year), and is a pleasantly intelligent way to spend that hard earned money of yours.
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt