The Big Short

Another one of my much looked forward to movies has been ticked off. I’d been looking forward to The Big Short for months and I’m very glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

The film is based on the 2010 best-selling novel and is set during the lead up to the Great Recession. It centres on a disparate group of financial professionals who realise that the American economy is about to implode and decide to take advantage of it.

Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a successful hedge fund manager who foresees the housing bubble a few years early and engages with various banks to create credit default swaps and to bet against their investment. Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears of Burry’s prediction and sees the opportunity, so together with hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) bets against the housing market. Two young investors randomly discover Vennett’s proposal and they decide to become involved in credit default swaps together with retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). The end result was that all of these people made enormous profits when the housing market collapsed. Burry alone earned a personal profit of $100 million and a profit for his investors of more than $700 million.

On paper it sounds like it could be a slog, but Adam McKay’s script together with the lead performances turn this into a very funny look at a serious subject. There are several celebrity cameos throughout the film, there to explain certain banking concepts, and so people like Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain illustrate subprime mortgages and CDOs while breaking the fourth wall. Again it sounds like it shouldn’t work but they actually help the audience’s understanding, and it’s a smart way to avoid the dreaded info dump.

The Big Short also manages to acknowledge the fact that although its main characters won betting against the housing market, and won big, for the rest of America and the world, most people lost. The scenes of Mark Baum’s team in Florida doing on the ground research show the human side of the crisis, with corrupt real estate agents and morally bankrupt mortgage brokers taking advantage of clueless buyers.

The Irish Times reported a couple of weeks ago that The Big Short was the favourite to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Betting on a film about betting on the housing market seems fitting! Definitely highly recommended and one to watch.

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