The Big Short (2015)

Cast includes: Christian Bale (The Fighter), Steve Carell (The Office), Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March), Brad Pitt (Inglorious Basterds), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Finn Wittrock (Unbroken)
Director: Adam McKay (Anchorman and Anchorman 2)
Genre: Drama | History (130 minutes) Based on the book by Michael Lewis

Huffington Post

“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.” —Mark Twain. Jared Vennett looks at the camera and tells us “In the late 70s, banking was boring.” He goes on to explain Lewis Ranieri’s idea of bundling a bunch of boring individual mortgages into more exciting mortgage-backed securities (MBS). It seemed like a good idea at the time. “But in 2008, it all came tumbling down.” The crash came as a surprise to most, but not to everyone. There were a few who saw it coming. “How did they do it? They looked… something the industry didn’t think to do.” Michael Burry of Scion Capital was one of those who “thought to look.” Dr. Burry was always a nonconformist… glass eye, possible Asperger’s, shorts and tee shirts as work attire. In 2004, he couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t seeing 1930’s-era red flags. Burry also saw an investment opportunity. “You want to short the housing market! You think Greenspan is wrong?” Scion’s CEO asks.

“I look for value where it can be found,” Burry answers. He not only looked at trends; he examined individual mortgages. Absolutely… he knows Greenspan is wrong! If he could find institutions willing to short sell their MBSs, he wants the bet. “Free money” is what Goldman Sachs thought Burry was offering. Sure… $5 million? How about $100 million? They actually cheered about the deal… as did Bear Sterns and Lehman. Burry committed all of Scion’s liquid assets to a crash Scion’s CEO said would never happen. In the meantime, Mark Baum was seeing “inconsistencies.” Baum had always been a bull in the china shop, so no one took it that seriously. Also, a couple of smartass kids were looking at unorthodox investment opportunities and stumbled upon collateralized debt obligations. The kids had trouble closing deals, though. “I’m standing in front of a burning bank and offering you fire insurance!” But without an “ISDA,” they were getting nowhere. They turned to retired investment banker, Ben Rickert, for his ISDA and his unusually dark worldview.

The Big Short (the movie) changes the names of many individuals in Michael Lewis’s bookof the same name. It also takes a few liberties with plot details, which they tell us about along the way. Certain characters break the 4th wall and talk directly to the audience… a technique that works well because the information is complicated. They also use humor and celebrities to break down specific details. There were actually about a dozen people who saw the crash coming, but the narrative focuses on 3 individuals/groups… making the information both engaging and digestible. The Big Short has an excellent cast with no single lead because the plot line follows different narratives. The film feels a bit like a fast paced documentary but with more audience appeal. By the end, you still may not understand every details, but you’ll have a better grasp. You’ll certainly have an opinion on questions like these: “Are they crooks or clueless?” Or is there a difference?

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

A pseudo-documentary style retelling of the run-up to the 2008 housing market crash… those who saw it coming and bet against those who didn’t (or wouldn’t)

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism and Gorilla Video
Nutshell: 2008 financial crisis
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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