Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Big Short

Plot: Prior to the 2008 crash, fund managers Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) spotted the problems with mortgage bonds and tried to profit from it. The Big Short explains the reason for the 2008 financial crisis through the eyes of the three fund managers.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The Big Short is a dramatization of the 2008 financial crash through the eyes of three investors who saw it coming. Because financial crime is immaterial, director McKay keeps it lively with rock music, odd venues, characters addressing the camera directly, and odd-ball vignettes, for example, Margot Robbie gives a profanity-filled explanation of bond trading in a bubble-bath while drinking champagne.

The best part was the educational value -- I left with a better understanding of the 2008 crisis, and some knowledge of the gaps in today's system. It was interesting because it was true.

I liked how McKay cleverly worked technical definitions into the movie withOUT making it sleepy. Now I know what a synthetic CDO is, for example.

There was a great scene where bond rating agency manager talks wearing dark glasses as if she were blind. I appreciated the ironic humor. There were several gaps like this, some funny.

Compared to a real drama however, The Big Short,  comes up short. Why? The characters: they are motivated only by getting rich. The writers decided these people were abnormal and dehumanized them rather than humanizing them. They are depicted as anti-social or maybe Aspergers sufferers: even if this was been historically true, everyone has feelings and needs. Fewer characters with deeper backstories would have been more engaging.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell

Directed by:
Adam McKay

Written by:
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph; based on the book by Michael Lewis

The Music:
Great. The rock music and the regular soundtrack by Nicholas Britell. I especially liked the jazz piano in "Redemption at the Roulette Table." 

The Visuals:
The fast moving visual style is distinctive. Nothing breathtaking

3.0 stars: It is a two star movie that gets a 1/2 star bump because its educational, and another 1/2 star because of its social value and ambition. Am I being suckered by the Oscar buzz?

More: The Big Short shows the cause of the crisis was ignorance and greed at the banks. This fits with Hollywood tropes about evil corporations. The real cause was lax financial regulation, and privatization of bond rating among three for-profit rating agencies -- who were too dependent on their clients to be honest. Free market capitalism can only exist in a framework of well-known rules.

Even More: When someone tells you that a thing is too hard to understand, take the time to learn it. That is my take away from The Big Short. I remember a hundred stories on mortgage bond derivatives, and every one had a disclaimer about how hard it was to understand.


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