The Big Short

HK Magazine - - FILM -

(USA) Com­edy. Di­rected by Adam McKay. Star­ring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Chris­tian Bale, Brad Pitt. Cat­e­gory IIB. 130 min­utes. Opened Jan 21.

Still won­der­ing what re­ally went down in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis eight years ago? Were you more in­vested in Brit­ney Spears shav­ing her hair off than in un­der­stand­ing what the sub­prime mort­gage melt­down re­ally meant? In one of this year’s big­gest movies (its five Os­car nom­i­na­tions are a big hint) Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” has done the best job yet in break­ing down the money mumbo jumbo for the masses, walk­ing us through why the bub­ble burst and how it still af­fects us to­day, eight years on.

With goofy ti­tles like “An­chor­man” on his ros­ter, McKay lends a comic and in­fec­tious energy to the story. Of course it has to be this way, oth­er­wise the au­di­ence would be snooz­ing by the ti­tle cred­its. It’s a true tale based on author Michael Lewis’ (“The Blind Side,” “Money­ball”) ac­count of how four Wall Street out­siders pre­dicted the fi­nan­cial cri­sis be­fore any­one else—and cashed in on it. It’s equally an ex­posé of the lu­di­crous ease with which banks were dol­ing out mort­gages and loans that peo­ple couldn’t re­al­is­ti­cally pay off, as well as a deep moral ex­am­i­na­tion and cau­tion­ary tale of the sheer greed that led the banks, rat­ings agen­cies and mort­gage bro­ker bros to make ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions for in­com­pre­hen­si­ble amounts of cash.

When ec­cen­tric real-life hedge fund man­ager Michael Burry (Chris­tian Bale—method acted to a T, as usual), a oneeyed, Me­gadeth-blast­ing num­bers whiz, no­tices how un­sta­ble and risky the Amer­i­can hous­ing mar­ket is, he pre­dicts the col­lapse mid-2007 and plans to profit from it by bet­ting that the loans will de­fault: He’s tak­ing a short po­si­tion. A very big one. The banks see him as a to­tal nut­case, so ob­vi­ously they take his money. Suave trader Jared Ven­nett (Ryan Gosling), catches wind of this and pitches the same plan to hedge fund man­ager and blus­ter­ing moral knight Mark Baum (Steve Carell as a more in­tense, up­right ver­sion of “The Of­fice”’s Michael Scott). Hop­ing to get rich fast, a pair of am­a­teur in­vestors (John Ma­garo and Finn Wit­trock) ac­ci­den­tally come across Ven­nett’s pro­posal, and en­list the help of pes­simistic re­tired banker Ben Rick­ert (Brad Pitt) to get in on the profit.

The three groups never in­ter­sect, but Ven­nett whirls us through the story as nar­ra­tor, de­mys­ti­fy­ing the com­plex fi­nan­cial jar­gon. The best way he does this? Bring­ing in celebri­ties like Mar­got Rob­bie (in a sexy, sudsy bath­tub, of course), An­thony Bour­dain and Se­lena Gomez to ex­plain com­plex terms like a “col­lat­er­al­ized debt obli­ga­tion” or “syn­thetic CDOs.” It’s the best kind of crash course.

Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Barry Ack­royd (“The Hurt Locker”) works in a close-up-rid­den, some­times shaky re­al­ism to the film which adds to the grainy mid-noughties charm, but it also brings out the harsh com­edy of par­tic­u­larly bleak sets, from aban­doned lux­ury sub­urbs to de­serted Gold­man Sachs of­fices.

Al­though “The Big Short” is clev­erly dis­guised as an easy breezy les­son in fi­nance, it’s 130 min­utes of in­sight as well. Hope­fully the peo­ple who were just pay­ing at­ten­tion to celebrity gos­sip eight years ago will fi­nally lis­ten to what th­ese celebs have to say. Eve­lyn Lok

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