The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2016)

What's it about? It's the real-life story of how several investors, including reclusive Michael Burry (Christian Bale), angry Mark Baum (Steve Carell), slick Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and retired Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), made a fortune by betting on the housing market collapsing in the mid-2000s.

Is it any good? The Big Short does two things very well. Firstly, it makes all the financial skull-duggery of the last few years accessible to a lay audience, primarily through regular moments when the characters (and various guest stars) break the fourth wall and tell us directly about the nuances of CDOs, sub-prime mortgages and other financial tricks. Although these explanations are undoubtedly simplified, they work well enough to grasp the core principles, allowing us to understand exactly how people made and lost so much money during the economic meltdown. It's slightly gimmicky, but I quite enjoyed the blackly comic nature of these scenes, which illustrate the horrible absurdity of the circumstances which led to the crisis - it's so mind-bogglingly scandalous, if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. 

Secondly, it manages to get us to root for unlikable characters who fundamentally profited from the misery of others. They certainly aren't depicted as 'good' guys, but by presenting characters who were effectively outsiders in the industry, they become our amoral compass, people who at least seem less bad than the rest of the banking sector. And, whatever the moral stance on their actions, the film reflects the fact that these were smart guys who ignored the status quo, did their research, identified the opportunity and took a ballsy gamble which paid off, even as they become increasingly appalled at the lack of regulation and responsibility in the system the populate. Certainly there was luck involved, but fortune (literally in this case) does favour the brave, although it's probably easier to be brave with other people's money than your own. 

And therein lies the crux of the film. Were these guys hypocritical parasites who just got lucky when their reckless gamble paid off? Or did they just play the game well, even though it was rigged against them? The film can be read either way and thus ends up being both entertaining and thought-provoking. If it were you, would the chance of making millions out of a corrupt system be too tempting? Or could you do the 'right' thing? Or would you even be allowed to....? 

I don't trust you. What do others think? Surprise front-runner for Best Picture at the Oscars, with favourable comparisons to the likes of Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street. It has also been good for author Michael Lewis, who wrote the book it is based upon. In an interview here, Lewis discusses how he was careful not to make 'heroes' out of his subjects, even though they were collectively outraged by the criminal activities of the banks and bankers around them. Naturally, others here and here have been quick to question the fact vs fiction of both book and film, whilst others have questioned the morality of lionising such sordid characters at all.

Anything else I should know? Five years ago, I reviewed another Adam McKay film, the patchy comedy The Other Guysand I remarked at the time on the strange financial statistics credits sequence which seemed out of step with that film. "...struck me as a remnant of a more satricial film about the cause of the global economic crisis" I trumpeted at the time. And lo, it did come to pass. Maybe I should have bet on it happening. In fact maybe I could make it on Wall Street!!

*Picks up phone* 
Hello! Buy me $50million shares!! And send over the hookers!! 
*Slams phone down. Snorts coke. Becomes an asshole*  

What does the Fonz think? Play Your CDOs Right

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