Many viewers will leave the cinema feeling angry having watched The Big Short; others will leave having finally grasped why the recession actually happened. The movie explains complicated financial jargon in lay man’s terms using cameo performances by high profile celebrities. Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie features in a bubble bath explaining subprime mortgages, renowned chef Anthony Bourdain uses left over fish to teach us how the US banks created dodgy bonds, and Selena Gomez appears at a casino in Vegas explaining collateralised debt obligations.
It is relatable for many Irish viewers as you can see the parallels with our own banking crisis, and the austerity measures which were introduced to undo the banks’ negligence.
The most sobering scene in the movie comes when pessimistic hedge fund manager, Mark Baum (brilliantly played by Steve Carrell) is sitting on the roof top of a New York building towards the end of the movie. His own brother committed suicide by jumping off a building, and viewers almost feel he is now going to meet the same fate. He has just learned that the US government has decided to bail the banks out. In total dismay, he can’t fathom the fact that the banks acted how they did knowing the tax payer would end up having to pay for their greed and stupidity.
The movie hits home the reality of what unfolded when it shows families becoming homeless after their landlords defaulted on their mortgages, in spite of the fact their tenants were paying their rent on time every month.
Sometimes movies with all-star casts end up being the biggest disappointments, but this was far from the case here. Christian Bale is fantastic as the eccentric, glass-eyed investor, Michael Burry who predicted the housing bubble bursting circa 2007 and used his prediction to render himself a billionaire in the process. He invested in insurance bonds against sub-prime mortgages going bad. The banks self-created fallacy that the housing bubble could never burst leads them to believe he is deluded, and so they are happy to take his money.
Ryan Gosling plays the sharp tongued trader, Jared Vennett, who narrates the story. While his fake tan in the movie is highly questionable, his acting credentials are not. He works for a bank but crucially, he does not like the bank one bit. Then there is Brad Pitt, the retired trader (who retired as he hated the system and all it stood for) and now lives a life where his main goal is to grow all his own vegetables so he can sustain his own family, implying you can’t trust anyone else to keep you going.
While the main characters end up hypocritically profiting from the situation, McKay still makes us root for them, even though they are part of the corrupt system which makes us so angry by the end of the movie.
In some respects, this movie is almost unsettling. The last ten minutes alludes to how none of those responsible were accordingly reprimanded, and in the end, the blame for the economic catastrophe landed harder on poor people and immigrants than it did on the banks.
It ominously implies that a similar crisis is not too far down the line as little has changed to prevent such a crisis happening again, and lessons have not been learned. The main focus seems to be trying to get back to the very same good times which led to such a detrimental downfall.
The combination of scathing humour, intelligent scripting and brilliant acting make this movie Oscar worthy, but it also makes you question what kind of a world we live in.