How do you turn an Economics case-study with a whole gamut of financial instruments being played across a bevy of Financial entities into a witty joyride about a bunch of misfits becoming millionaires overnight ?
Adam McKay has weaved together one of the most studied, world-changing events of our time into a classic tale of David versus Goliath revealing the deeply consumeristic culture we are supposedly striving in. The Big Short, with its intriguing paradoxical name, is based on the 2007-08 Subprime crisis in the United States which engorged itself to such massive proportions that there was hardly any part of the world that was unaffected by the avalanche that followed. If you were too young or just too bored to pay any attention to one of the biggest crashes since the Great Depression, here’s a primer for you – Among a number of factors that are thought to have caused this, Subprime lending was considered to be the prime trigger. It started with a huge reduction in home loans and mortgage rates owing to government housing policies which boosted house sales across the States. In a normal scenario, people who had a decent credit rating (ability to pay back loans) were preferred by lenders (banks in this case). But once the loan rates came down, a huge market of consumers, who couldn’t buy homes earlier, opened up. Bankers and Investment firms saw this as an opportunity to get rich. So they started grouping subprime mortgages (low credit rating ones) with prime mortgages (ones with high credit rating). This household debt was financed by MBS (Mortgage-backed Securities) and CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligations). Now before you facepalm yourselves, we will confine the rant here and just suffice to say that the head honchos of banks started trading these sets of mortgages amongst themselves assuming that people were “nice” enough to pay back their loans. But hey, people are dumb and careless for the most parts and don’t really think about the future, do they ? When the prices of Houses came down due to a huge deficit in demand, all those mortgage sets being played around by the banks depreciated in value becoming next to scrap !
McKay knew he was dealing with a challenge of making his audience understand some very complex manoeuvres that have ever been done in Banking but the story needed to be told. So he cut scenes into a bunch of “Know your Jargons” sessions throughout the movie. One of the sessions, hosted by a pretty lady (euphemism to say the least) gave out the definitions of MBS and CDO bringing them down to the basics, keeping us glued the whole time. Smart move prof ! The film is, similarly, interspersed, with funny and original analogies that almost give you a sense of – “How could they not see this coming ?!”.
Christian Bale playing an eccentric yet genius Hedge fund manager was by far our favourite misfit, who saw the cards falling a mile away and decided to bet millions against the supposedly rock-solid housing market with the Banks. He was a treat to watch as he waddled around his office in a knicker and slippers marking down his firm’s stock price to negative on a white-board. When the crash happened, he walked out with the same disinterested expression and put a three figure percentage rise in the same stock price, nailing down his massive win.
Steve Carell, a surprise addition if you ask us, was a pleasant change from his usual characters and accurately depicted his disgust for the decadence that been wrought upon the American economy as he very aptly summarised in a quote – “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food. Even baseball…”
A dash of glamour to this equation was Ryan Gosling who came from the devil’s land of bankers but had foreseen the imminent crash and was one of the few who bet against the Housing finance industry, siding with Carrell to earn a huge commission on the “Inside Job” (Had to have that reference). Brad Pitt was strangely inconspicuous in the film fleeting in and out, but hell we did not miss him at all, for this mathematical screenplay had immersed our attention to the story. The characters were so tightly integrated that the story ruled till the end.
After his stint with the Anchorman series, McKay has managed to turn Bankers and Analysts into Rockstars. He has shown us that Economics affects our lives a lot more than we are aware of, so much so that we were reminded of the book Freakonomics assigned to us by our Econ Prof. As was cleverly put, by an on-screen Twain quote – “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…” – literally defining what’s wrong with our world.
Best Director: With a subject which affected millions of people in America and overseas, McKay has made sure that it would be relevant for years to come. And through his interesting treatment, its safe to say that he has created a new genre here.
Best Adapted Screenplay: McKay and Charles Randolph’s witty and intelligent story-telling never lacked in pace and endearing quotes throughout the film. You may not remember the facts and trivia about the crisis but you will definitely remember each character and their specific scenes where they perform the coup de gracé as the crash happens. Mischievous yet sticking in your mind.
Best Supporting Actor: If anyone has a strong chance of winning in this category, its Bale. He has already made a reputation of being a method actor, delving deep into his characters and giving realistic performances. As Dr. Michael Burry, he intrigued us like no one else, standing out from his peers. His bad eye and his mannerisms including the crazy drumming scene make a longstanding mark in the audience’s psyché. This movie could have done equally well if the story had been told just through Bale’s perspective. He was that good !
gobblpoint: If finance and banking jargons do not interest you, watch it solely for its endearing characters. Watch it for one of Bale’s best dramatic performances in a long time.
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