The Big Short movie full length review - The Trades of Wrath...
A few days ago, my wife told me that the French President, who made finance his personal enemy in election days had just voted a law, making people losing all their money if their bank were out of business, no one knew that, it was during summer.
But she knew, she works in a bank. And God after watching "The Big Short", I'm not the least surprised. When will people understand how the game works, dammit?
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
As much as I like this Twain quote, I wish they used instead ''A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
The greatness of Adam McKay's biographical tragicomedy (tragedy emphasized) lies in its pedagogical value: with fourth-wall breaking, a dense but easily-digestible script (co-written with Charles Randolph) and brilliant cameos explaining the complex intricacies of the credit system, you quickly catch the drift. The umbrella metaphor would've been one of these images that speak thousand words. And on that level, the collapse of the housing market in 2008 isn't exactly a 'Gene Kelly' rain, more of 'Noah's ark' one.
The film, like an ominous ticking bomb, chronicles the chain of events leading to the disaster, just like "Titanic', we know the end but the dynamite-editing makes the experience so exhilarating. It's like "Crisis for Dummies", the dummies we were for trusting our bankers more than our intelligence. How a credit works, where your money goes, and how you fill the portfolio of poker-face crooks who know how to make a delicious stew out of rotten fish heads.
Cheating is such a part of the game that the question is not 'how did that happen?', but 'how could that 'NOT' happen? The very premise of credit is fallacious when you think about it (and this comes from someone who's still paying his studies loan debts after 14 years). The greatest trick of the credit system is to make you believe that you can buy something you actually can't. And this is why sub-prime loans (high risks for fewer returns, worthless mortgages making as worthless bonds) have been created, this is the butterfly's fart that will end up in a hurricane, and hedge fund manager Michael Burry( (Christian Bale) smelled the fart before everyone else.
Burry checks a few lines and columns on Excel, and decides to "short the bond", meaning to bet against the housing market by creating a credit default swap market. Let's just say, it's like investing on pharmaceuticals when you're the only one who knows about the imminence of a bacterial war. Many banks accept his offer, which implies that he'll hit the jackpot only in the (then unconceivable) case that the housing market collapses. It's one of these cases where even Bale can betray in his eyes, the one that works anyway, something like "I wish I was wrong", and he's not the only one who feels this way.
There's Mark Baum, another hedge manager who's alerted by a trader played by Ryan Gosling about Burry's move. They can see the sword of Damocles over their heads and do their own investigations, from estate agents bragging about their exploits: selling expensive houses to poor schmucks or Standards & Poors selling lousy debt obligation with excellent ratings (law of the market), they know there's something fishy. Meanwhile, two young investors (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) learn about the situation and with the help of a retired banker, played by Brad Pitt, they go to Mortgage Securities Forum in Las Vegas and make enough deals to be able to buy out the same 'insurance' than Burry, they're on the safe side.
And this is when Pitt's character interrupts their celebration by reminding them, that lives will be lost at each percentage of unemployment rising, and that there's nothing to be joyful about. And that's what makes "The Big Short" such a magnificent storyteller. Just when you get an overdose of financial jargon, you have Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining to you the mortgage system (the script should win the Oscar just for that), just when you wonder what has become of this character, you get to him, and just when the comedic tones gets too palpable, you have a moment of genuine decency reminding you that that the film is the chronicle of a predicted tragedy.
There's a similar moment where Mark Baum discusses with a businessman who created synthetic CDOs, increasingly large bets on faulty loan brilliantly explained by Selena Gomez who plays a black jack player inspiring many viewers to bet for her on the basis that she had won every time. She'd lose ultimately but it's one thing to lose five thousands on a risk that cost you five thousands, but when financial tricks turns the five thousand into millions, in terms of massive destructive weapons, these CDOs are the real stuff, and Baum knows the bomb is soon to explode. It's almost ironic that his name sounds like Boom.
It makes sense that some cultures forbid interest rates on the basis that nothing should be bought above its intrinsic value. Metal has value, salt has value, but what value has paper than the numbers written on? Why should it take you 20 years to buy an apartment thrice its price? Because finance says '1$ today isn't 1$ tomorrow', I know, but well, whatever these billions were worth before the crisis, they totally vanished in 2008 putting millions of people jobless, homeless and many of them lifeless.
"The Big Short" is an important movie with the epic ambition of Michael Moore's docs, the spellbinding editing of "JFK" and the fast-paced entertainment of "Goodfellas" except that this time, the gangsters are not arrested in the end.