The Big Short – Film Review

Safe as houses

‘We could do fifteen million,’ says the sharp suited banker.  “Could we make it ninety million?’ says a lazy-eyed, world weary Christian Bale.  The intoxication of the number sets in and the bankers take the bait.  From then on, there can be only one outcome.

They’re calling it a comedy drama, but that’s conditional.  No doubt, it is a drama – a profane, tense, cliff hanger of a drama, full of set-piece, in-your-face, macho action of the bulging eyes, spittle flecked dialogue type.  Not a punch is thrown, but there are knock-out blows every step of the way.

The premise is a gripping narrative on the insight and insider dealings of the financial world, where a handful of outsider mavericks spot the trend ahead of the curve, and go all out to make a killing by betting against the strength of the worldwide economy.  For “the big short” read “the huge gamble.”  The message is simple: there’s no black art to finance, it’s all about placing a bet and hoping for the best.  You win big or you lose big, and everyone breaks the first rule of gambling: never bet more than you can afford to lose.

There’s always tension, ready to spill over from twelve angry men style tension into full-blown reservoir dogs personal violence. It’s no coincidence that the hedge fund managers and investment bankers who are at the centre of the narrative, all look like itinerant Mr Pinks.  All that’s missing is a scene in the executive loo, something along the lines: ‘Bankrupt anyone today?’ ‘Just a couple of cops.’  ‘What, no real people?’

Effectively, this is a banking big heist movie.  The bankers of Wall Street screw the entire world in the crash of 2007-2008. The victims are the American economy, the world economy, and the six million home owners kicked out into the street in the fiasco that was sub-prime lending, junk bonds and credit default obligations.

If the prospect of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt all in one room has you capitalising on your assets, you’re in for a return on your investment. Although, like a clap-board back-woods Florida cabin home, they are all in the guise of ‘fixer upper’.  Glamorous the roles are not.

If you don’t get the terminology – don’t worry.  It’s all explained by babes in bubble bath and other innovative instructional videos.

Comedy.  There’s comedy.  Vicious, misogynistic, racist, brutalist comedy.  Heaven knows there’s need for comic relief as the ordinary people are routinely crushed under the self-assured and uncaring wheels of corporate banking.  Strip away the vulgarity of the Wall Street mentality and this is a very funny film.  A very funny film if you never had a mortgage or ever worried about your job or your debt.

The UK is among the last places on the planet to see The Big Short.  Still, you can gloat for a whole month, if you’ve friends in Finland – or always short them on the price of the cinema ticket.

The Big Short (cert PG), directed and co-written by Adam McKay, is on UK release from 22 January 2016


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