The collapse of America’s subprime mortgage market in 2008 resulted in financial ruin for many, but some in the market made a fortune. The Big Short is a fascinating, educational and disturbing movie about these men.
All made massive bets against the housing market and the banking system when they realised just how flawed it was. They were convinced the market was going to collapse. If they were right, millions of Americans would lose their homes and the result could ripple across the globe.
The film, based on the best-selling book by financial journalist Michael Lewis , tells of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a physician turned hedge-fund money manager who had suspicions about the contents of mortgage bonds as early as 2005.
Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) is a subprime mortgage specialist at Deutsche Bank and is convinced his employers, along with Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and JP Morgan Chase are either extremely ignorant or deliberately acting illegally. He also acts as a kind of narrator.
Hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is a disruptive personality with righteous anger at the wrongs of the world. Baum hears of Vennett’s suspicions about the housing market and, after a wacky presentation by the banker, gets on the scepticism bandwagon – but not before his team of wary analysts (Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong) go on the ground in Florida to determine just how bad the mortgage situation is.
The last group The Big Short follows is a pair of up and coming twenty-something money managers, Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), who also get a whiff of the problem and are mentored by lone wolf Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a conspiracy theorist with doomsday on his mind.
To explain rather complicated terms involved in both the sub-prime market and Wall Street generally, director Adam McKay (Anchorman and Talladega Nights) uses pop figures such as actresses Margot Robbie (in a large bubble bath) and Selena Gomez and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Much of the film’s black humour comes from the realisation of how recklessly so many people were behaving at the time. But most of all this movie is disturbing, highlighting how millions of `ordinary’ people were exploited and hurt by those only interested in their own personal gains.
The Big Short opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday January 14.