Understand Wall Street Shenanigans with The Big Short

The movie depicts stocks and the severity of shorts.
Photo courtesy of Paramount.

Captivated by the recent GameStop short squeeze story? In awe of the absurdity of  Wall Street and the finance industry altogether? Isn’t there a tangible feeling of tension from a bunch of people who make money just by having money to make money with? Like, they don’t actually do anything, they just make money. But how do they make money? One might ask any of these questions. What is the actual input action which generates the outcome of having made money? And everyone just kind of looks down and shrugs their shoulders because they don’t have a good answer. Well, they might try to explain, they just kind of pass money around and by the time it comes back to them there is more of it. But, sometimes, they pass money around and by the time it comes back to them there is less of it. And then, oh man, then everybody’s in trouble. 

This is essentially the premise of Adam McKay’s The Big Short about the 2008 financial crisis.

The movie explains the buildup and collapse of the housing market bubble through the perspectives of an all-star cast of investors and hedge fund managers who caught on to the bubble before anyone else. There’s the doctor-turned-finance manager Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale, who first notices that the rise in value in the housing market is based on extremely risky, “subprime,” loan sales. Deutsche Bank executive Jared Vennet, played by Ryan Gosling; FrontPoint Partners manager Mark Baum, played by Steve Carell; and two small time traders from Boulder with their partner Ben Rickert, a retired banker-turned-doomsday prepper played by Brad Pitt, hear about Burry’s prediction and the three groups of investors short sell the housing market to profit off its collapse.

    Ryan Gosling, with a combination of narration and direct address, guides the viewers through the complex world of high-level finance—all the while in character as a blunt, unfeeling, and seemingly coked up banker. Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez make cameo appearances to explain terms like CDOs, and ISDA agreements. The movie explains financial concepts well enough to keep the plot moving forward, but don’t expect to end up with an in-depth understanding of how default credit swaps work.

    Steve Carrel and his character’s team show the material basis of the crisis while interviewing mortgage owners in Florida who don’t understand what the banks have given them to sign. The movie keeps the theme tied down with Brad Pitt’s character reminding his younger partners that, while they’re getting rich, millions of Americans are experiencing economic ruin, and a sobering epilogue which explains how the fraudulent banks were bailed out by taxpayers and never held accountable.

    Based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, the 2015 movie is not exactly a documentary, but it is more real than a typical “based on a true story” story. Certain moments are dramatized or altered to move the story along, but the characters will stop and address the audience to admit, “Well it didn’t quite happen this way.” or, in one case, exclaim, “This really did happen.”

Adam McKay, previously the creator of movies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, has created something, not just unlike anything he’d worked on before, but unlike anything else period. It’s not an educational movie, but it is informative. It’s funny, but too maddening to be called a comedy. It could be called political satire, but rather than take part in a social conversation, it is as though the movie has reached the end of its patience and is now just throwing its hands in the air to scream, “Jesus Christ!”

This is a selection from the Feb. 17 issue. To view the full issue, visit: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/316311/

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