The Big Short: Nothing has changed and nothing will

Niall McCann


Niall McCann

The Big Short: Nothing has changed and nothing will

Anyone who has been paying attention to world business affairs lately will be aware that economics wise, to paraphrase Billy Joel, there are ructions in China (there are always ructions in Afghanistan) and these ructions, effectively fears about the stability of the markets in the Asian superpower, has put the willies up stock markets worldwide.

And coupled with falling oil prices has led many economists and other people who like to tell us doomsday is around the corner that another economic crash could be nigh in 2016.

Thats right, another economic crash, because the one we had one not long ago is well over isn't it?

No it’s certainly not and unless I’m mistaken, despite what our political firebrands may tell us, it is a crash we are still reeling from rather than recovering from, but what do I know, maybe it’s just my own pursestrings that are still feeling the strain.

One thing 2016 has brought us is this new film from director Adam McKay, The Big Short, and it stands as one of the most clear headed, understandable, accessible and weirdly, given its subject matter, enjoyable films made yet about the global economic crash of 2008.

The Big Short

Director: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillen

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 130 min

McKay - who has up to this point mostly made films with Will Ferrell et al, such as the Anchorman film series, Step Brothers, and the wonderful Eastbound and Down - makes a huge leap forward aesthetically, intellectually and materially with this fast paced and engaging adaptation of the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine.

The film, like the book, details the events which led up to the biggest economic crash in living memory, perhaps the biggest in modern history, a group of hedge fund managers realising the precariousness of the housing market decide to bet against subprime mortgages and it follows the stability of the entire world.

McKay breaks it down for his audience so we are not lost in a sea of banking jargon and left bored and confused out of (as the bankers would have it, our tiny little minds).

We are given, many frequent breaks in the fourth wall, werein celebrities break the various banking talk down to it’s brass tax for us, so we get Selena Gomez playing blackjack with the real life economist Dr Richard Thaler to show how one bad bet has a domino effect on a Synthetic (as in made up) CDO (collateralised debt obligation); the chef Anthony Bourdain shows us how banks bundle toxic assets into CDOs by creating “fish stew” from yesterday’s catch-of-the-day.

We get Margot Robbie (picked here to remind us of Wolf of Wall Street presumably) lecturing us dismissively from a bubble bath with a glass of champagne in hand.

The unusual thing about both the book and the film is that in this story bankers are the good guys in many ways, well the ones we meet are; Mark Baum played wonderfully by Steve Carrell, is a noble moral crusader who is disgusted by the behaviour of the banking industry around him, Ben Rickert played by Brad Pitt has a conscience too, only one of our protagonists does not, Dr. Michael Burry , a superb Christian Bale, playing a neurologist turned hedge-fund manager with a glass eye and a clear case of Asperger’s Syndrome Burry is the first to twig that something is amiss in the world of mortgages and decides to bet against it, he gains the world in monetary terms but loses all his friends and the respect he once had.

It’s refreshing to see a film wherein the culprits of the crash are actually aware of their actions and the catastrophic events they led to.

Carrell and Bale are joined by an all star cast: Brad Pitt excels playing a retired, hugely successful banker who is aware of the pain and destruction they are betting on happening in order to win, at one point he admonishes his two proteges as they celebrate they impending riches that there is nothing to celebrate: “did you know that every time unemployment goes up 1% 40,000 people die?”

That’s the most arresting thing about this movie, it all happened, and it happened to all of us because of the reckless actions of a few, they all got off scot free and the same things that led to the crash have been allowed to begin happening again, it’s as if it was all a big game, built on nothing but amoral markets that leaves us at the whims of cowboys these banks and our governments protect and reward, it’s as if it was all just made up….

The straight to-camera segments help the film build momentum and the whole thing coalesces into a brilliantly sketched, accessible, fuming account of the financial crisis, and its continuing aftermath.

The coda we are presented with at the end outlines and reminds us as already noted here: nothing has changed and no one was held accountable, this is made all the more terrifying because this is all true.

If I have any complaints it's that it would have been nice to see any strong female characters at all in the film but it’s a boys only show, the only women who do appear, appear fleetingly and are mostly just eye candy.

Marisa Tomei turns up for what must be the shortest cameo ever.

If you forgive the pun this lack of women maybe the hangover from McKay's Ferrell days, banking is likely predominantly the domain of the macho male, at least at the level shown here, it’s a world made by bastards for bastards, if we weren’t stuck in it with them it might even be funny, but we are.

4 Out of 5