The idea of a movie explaining how banks committed fraud, how the housing market collapsed and how four clever (and lucky) groups of people spotted it and profited from it does initially sound a bit dull, but it is surprisingly interesting and resulted in an exhilarating and entertaining movie.
I will try my best to explain this without talking another language completely: A group of people spotted that mortgage bonds, which are bonds backed by a pool of mortgages on houses were built up of more and more unstable and unsafe mortgages, despite being rated as high quality. They were able to take out a variation of insurance on the bond, called a credit default swap, which means that they make money when the bond collapses. This group has noticed that as the bonds are made up of more and more bad quality mortgages, the situation escalated and got to a tipping point where there were so many bad bonds that the market, in fact, collapsed. At that point, they were able to make money on the “insurance” they took out. The housing market initially looked completely stable, so when this group of people were taking out credit default swaps (insurance) on the bonds, they were getting exceedingly good odds in their favour meaning that when the collapse happened they made huge amounts of profit.
It’s a difficult idea to understand, but director Adam McKay makes this story understandable and accessible to the vast majority of people. When approaching some of the more complex portions of the story we are taken away from the scene and have these trickier sections explained to us by people you wouldn’t expect. For example, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explained what “sub-prime” means, Selena Gomez explained a “synthetic CDO” using a roulette table and the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explains "collateralised debt obligations" using a seafood stew – Sounds odd, but it works.
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a socially awkward genius who discovered the unsafe bonds by reading the numbers. He then invested millions of dollars with several banks. Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team heard about this opportunity by someone ringing them accidentally. After they look into it, they see the potential and speak to Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who takes the role of narrator of the movie and often breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience to tell the story. Meanwhile, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), an ex-banker who moved away from the business world, is contacted by Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) a pair of young entrepreneurs who find out about this investment and receive Ben’s help.
The Big Short is a very comedic tale, given the seriousness and complexity of the movie and really kept my attention throughout. The financial jargon probably went over some people’s heads, but most people will walk away from the movie with a greater understanding of what collapsed the economy and with a sour taste in their mouths, given the impact it had on many people’s lives.
The acting is sublime, seeing the seriousness of the situation they are betting money against is hard-hitting and Steve Carell particularly played a very serious and emotional role where Mark Baum has to reflect on his Brother’s suicide. Having seen Carell play mainly comedic roles, this very serious and heart wrenching moment is very well done.
The Big Short is a very insightful movie and for me, on par with the standard of “The Wolf of Wall Street”, minus the sexual obscenity. This entertaining movie is a must-see and one that I will likely see again when it makes its way to cinemas.