The Big Short is an attempt to explain the housing and financial collapse in 2008 from four different but slightly aligning perspectives. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the socially awkward, but good with numbers guy who we're led to believe was the first person to spot the housing bubble and realize how astoundingly wobbly it really was. Michael sees how many 'subprime loans' the banks are giving out to people who realistically shouldn't be approved and then goes to various banks and arranges a 'credit default swap', which means if those 'subprime loans' go into default, that the banks will have to pay him a certain amount. However a 'CDP' isn't free, and it's costing Michael money, a lot of money to keep the CDP in effect. The bankers are surprised that Michael would want to set up a CDP against what they see as a rock solid housing market and economy, but Michael wont be deterred. Naturally the bankers and his investors think he's a madman and that this is an act of pure lunacy on his part.
When Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) overhears what Michael has been doing, he decides to do the same thing himself, seeing the method behind his madness. In Jaret's quest to find financiers for this crazy scheme, he happens across a fringe group of cynical fund managers led by Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and convinces them to buy into his plan after they see how hollow the housing market is firsthand down in Florida(?). The 'subprime loans' are beginning to show, and in an attempt to ameliorate the situation the banks come up with a 'collateralized debt obligations' aka 'CDO' which is a collection of bad loans that are compiled, repackaged, and then sold off as AAA rated stock. Mark is stupefied at the blatant fraud that's been going on in almost every level involved, especially when he meets two real estate agents who openly boast about the banks approving loans for people who ordinarily shouldn't get them. One of them even says that most of his loans are NINJA loans. What's a NINJA loan you might be wondering. It's a loan for a person who has 'No Income and No Job'.
Then there's the two aspiring and ambitious traders, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) who get wind of the predicted 'burst' and decide to wager everything they've got, betting it all against the banks. Ordinarily they'd be way over their heads, but they have the disillusioned and highly astute Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) in their corner, a man who used to be one of the 'big traders' before he got sick of the system and retired. Ben agrees to help the youngsters get rich, but is also quick to berate them when they're celebrating. Telling them that their fortune is many other peoples misfortune. So The Big Short is essentially telling five separate stories at any one time.
There's so much dense and rapid financial jargon going on that the movie actually inserts random fourth wall breaking expository scenes in order to help keep the viewer up to speed, to explain it to us in layman's terms. Even with those scenes I struggled to make sense out of that world and how it works, or doesn't. I felt like The Big Short needed to drop a few of the subplots and characters and tell a more focused story, because it felt very disjointed to me, no fluidity to its storytelling at all. The cinematography was surprisingly weak too, I was constantly noticing how poor it was throughout the movie.
The cast was full of people profiteering off of the misery of others, which will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way, but none of them were in a position to prevent the collapse, although they did see an opportunity to make a profit out of it. If you saw a golden opportunity like that, would you take it? I think most people would. Mark was amazed at how widespread the weakness of the economy really was, as Mr Chou (Byron Mann) explained the whole convoluted mess of a system where he had invented 'synthetic CDO's' as a way of perpetuating the fraud even longer. Steve Carrell is arguably the heart of The Big Short and his crushing moment of realization when he sees the enormity of the fraudulent system is one of the better moments, but it's disrupted by really odd editing, which plagued the entire movie, the sound editing was a mess as well.
I really don't understand the totality of the situation, and I don't think the movie did a good job of conveying the pertinent information. I got the gist of it, but struggled to connect the dots. It was interesting how they showed the Americans were basically being hypnotized and distracted by trivial things ie pop culture over the years, while the people in-the-know were setting them up to take a massive fall as they all walked away with their pockets stacked with cash. It's the same old story, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Mark laments later on that 'it wasn't that the banks were stupid, it's just that they didn't give a shit.' after the government had just bailed them out of trouble.
If what the epilogue said is true, that they wiped $5 trillion dollars. How in the hell do you just erase $5 trillion dollars?! I understand it's all numbers in machines and not actual tangible money, but still... It was both interesting and edifying to a degree, but not particularly moving, enthralling or suspenseful. There's quite a few scenes in the trailer that weren't in the movie too. This trailer made it look like a comedy, when it's much more of a drama.
Written by - The Sentry - 08/04/2016