As the current trend for ‘based on a true story’ Oscar nominated films continue, the powers that be bring you The Big Short. With an all star cast including: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Rafe Spall. The story of the 2008 financial crash, does it crash in the same way?
The movie is made in the style of a documentary and begins with a brief history of how banks decided to package mortgages together to make them more appealing to investors. However, as there are a limited number of people who can afford houses and houses to actually buy, they eventually started to run out of all the good mortgages to package together and so decided to start putting some of the bad ones in there too. The mortgages for self-employed people, people who hadn’t really had their incomes checked, things like that.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the ratings agencies, Standard & Poors and Moodys, were basically keeping the ratings of these packaged mortgages artificially high, scared of losing the banks business.
In the midst of all this, an ex doctor turned Scion Capital Head Fund Manager Michael Burry, Christian Bale, notices that these rotten mortgages are being put with the good ones as well as the fact that the level of defaults is increasing. He decides to bet that the housing bubble will burst, more and more people will default and the banks will end up in trouble.
The banks are more than happy to accept his terms as this is something that has never happened in US history. They think he’s mad to bet against mortgages, many advising him it’s what the economy is built on.
Ryan Gosling’s character, Jared Vennett, from Deutschebank learns what Burry is doing and decides he’s right and also starts betting against the mortgage market. Meanwhile two small-time investors who started out working from their parents garage, also learn what Burry is doing and decide they want in, seeing it as a way to get rich quickly and to be able to play with the big boy investment banks. Porter Collins, played by Hamish Linklater (Fantastic Four, Battleship), and Charlie Geller, John Magaro (Carol, Unbroken) use their friend Ben Rickert, Brad Pitt, an ex investor now angry at the system and corruption within.
Finally Mark Baum, Steve Carell, and his small team of investment managers learn what’s happening thanks to a wrong number call they receive one day. Whilst Baum’s team are within Merrill Lynch they are reasonably autonomous and so, after their own investigations, bet against the mortgage market too.
If all this sounds complicated and complex, well, it is. As the film itself says “if all this sounds complicated, it’s meant to. Wall Street want you to think that what they do is complex and only they can do it”. The film does it’s best to explain things nice and simply with the help of people like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Selena Gomez and Richard Thaler (American economist) and, on the whole, they succeed. However you have to have some intelligence to get what’s going on. If the whole thought of a mortgage scares you then this movie probably isn’t going to be for you.
Writers Charles Randolph (Love and Other Drugs, The Interpreter) and Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Anchorman) do really well, given the subject matter, to keep the pace of the movie going and the laughs appropriate and light-hearted. McKay also takes directorial duties and there are no qualms there either.
The performances are great, Carell once again proving he’s made the switch from comedy to serious acting with ease. Bale is his usual intense self with Gosling playing the, almost sleazy role, with worrying ease!
The film is scary in terms of what the banks where doing and how the whole system was, and still is, hugely corrupt. It’s simply there to make rich people even richer (Vennett walked away with a $40 million bonus for his part in it all, Burry made nearly $3 billion for his hedge fund) and even governments don’t seem to want to do anything about it.
I’d like to say we’ve learnt from it but, sadly, we haven’t. The banks are already offering the same things again, repackaged under a different name.