Movies

Movie Review: The Big Short

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the big shortMortgage-backed securities.  Subprime loans.  Adjustable rate mortgage.  Credit default swaps.  Collateralized debt obligation.  How do you think a movie tackling such dry and difficult topics fare?  Dull?  Cumbersome?  Incomprehensible?  Not even close.

Director and co-writer Adam McKay and screenwriter Charles Randolph have inherent challenges in presenting complex terms and making them more palatable to mainstream audience.  By most accounts, they’ve succeeded.

Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale, “American Hustle,” “Batman” trilogy), an idiosyncratic doctor-turned-money manager, foresees a historic event that no one sees coming – the 2007-2008 economic meltdown.  A curious, opportunistic financial wizard, Dr. Burry studies the market and bets against the banks.

Real estate agents oversells the American dream of home ownership to anyone and everyone.  Lenders are making boatload of loans like there is no tomorrow.  No income and no job?  No problem.  Bad credit score?  That’s okay.  You’re not who you say you are?  No big deal.  These homeowners are signing into loans with adjustable rates and when those rates kick in, they won’t be able to pay back.

Furthermore, loans are stretched and slapped the highest ratings, sold and re-sold in unrecognizable packages to unsuspecting public.  Mortgage brokers, banks, credit-rating agencies and government regulators are either asleep at the wheel, turn a blind eye or in bed with one another.  As long as the hefty fees continue to pour in, there’s no conflict of interest or check and balance.  Greed breeds more greed.

Bale is accompanied by a strong set of actors.  A smarmy trader, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling, “The Ides of March,” “Drive“) catches wind of Dr. Burry’s discovery and connects with a morally-torn fund manager, Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team.  Along with a couple other young traders, Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), and their retired banker-mentor, Ben Rickert (Brat Pitt, “World War Z“), these opportunists smell a fortune like no other, make an educated guess, place their bets and score big in a rigged system that is doomed to fail.

There’s no one to root for here… not really.  There are a lot of losers in this twisted scheme that even the majority of winners do not feel like winning.  Millions of people lose their jobs and their homes.  Century-old companies shut down.  The world economy collapses.  But virtually no one goes to jail. The institutions are too big to fail and they would eventually get bailed out.

The filmmakers craftily executes the film.  To avoid monotone exposition, concepts and occasions are illustrated in a variety of ways.  Songs and news and characters facing and speaking directly to viewers.  And most ingeniously, comically utilizing actress Margot Robbie, chef Anthony Bourdain and singer Selena Gomez, who all make cameos as themselves.

With such serious subject, surprisingly, “The Big Short” is not short on jocularity.  The jargon-filled docudrama does feel long, but the madcap pace, akin to the award-nominated “The Wolf of Wall Street” (albeit without the gratuitous shots or glamorous sheen), helps make it entertaining.  The film is an enlightening companion piece to the award-winning documentary, “Inside Job.”  For a micro-perspective on the Great Recession, also check out “99 Homes.”

The ending will make you think about whether the whole economic apocalypse could happen all over again.  Ingloriously funny, fiery and frightening, “The Big Short” is no small feat.

Copyright (c) 2016.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven(sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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