If, like me, you find the world of stocks, shares, commodities, bear markets and short selling about as much sense as a Martian speaking ancient Greek, then you need to see this film.
Not only will it make what happened to the world’s financial markets during the last crash almost intelligible, but it will also make your blood boil at all those corporate bankers who sold me, you and the common people right down the Swanee while lining their pockets with filthy lucre.
Yet The Big Short is not, per se, a film of doom in gloom with a message it wants to hard sell. In fact, it is an absolute gem of a movie with fantastic performances and a script that whizz bangs its way through the more mind-boggling areas of financial obfuscation (while going completely off piste – in a nice way – in one or two scenes).
First, that cast list has to be seen to be believed. Christian Bale is Michael Burry, an eccentric financial genius who back in 2005 predicts the sub-prime mortgage market is going to go pop so counter-intuitively starts betting that that is going to happen (he ‘short sells’ against the probability). All the bankers he speaks to laugh their heads off because ‘that has never happened and it never will happen’.
Elsewhere across the higher reaches of Wall Street some brokers and power players actually cotton on to what Burry is doing, including Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) at Deutsche Bank and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team who get a misdirected call that leads them straight to the money.
Certain real-life celebs pop up to give entertaining explanations about how the market actually works and there’s a cameo from Brad Pitt, a retired financial whizz who ends up short selling via his personal computer while sitting in a Devonshire pub. Yes, it really is that weird and becomes even more so when the realisation dawns that this actually happened and it wasn’t Monopoly money, this was people’s life savings, their mortgages, their car loans and ultimately, for many, their jobs.
It is rare these days to get a big box office American film that treats its audience as actually having brains – but you need to keep your concentration up. Those who do so will find themselves richly rewarded.