Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
This week, a handful of shrewd financial advisors lead us through the ins and outs of America’s housing crisis with The Big Short.
They’re Not Confessing. They’re Bragging.
When the housing market collapsed back in 2005 and launched the country into a full-blown economic crisis, most of the world watched in utter disbelief. But not everyone was so surprised. A few savvy hedge fund players even saw it coming. And they made a pretty penny by doing the unthinkable – they bet against the American economy. But that doesn’t make them bad guys, right? That’s the central question at play in Director Adam McKay’s incisive biographical dramedy The Big Short. And it’s no easier to answer than the thousands of questions still surrounding the housing collapse.
Saints Don’t Live on Park Avenue
Yes, there are still plenty of questions about the hows and whys of the housing collapse. At least for the general public there are. And let’s be honest, economic turmoil is not the sexiest of subjects. Anyone who’s read an article or a book on the crisis knows how easy it is to get lost in complex economic concepts and big money language. The Big Short makes its biggest impact by taking the complexities of the crisis and distilling them into a language that everyone can understand. You can thank Co-Writers McKay and Charles Randolph for that. In an inspired bit of scripting, the two often cut away to celebrities like Selena Gomez or Chef Anthony Bourdain and have them detail the complexities of the housing market in the simplest way possible. Still McKay and Randolph never dumb down those details. Even if the scenes seem like a bit of a cheat at first, they become an ingenious play on style and language.
And it is McKay’s and Randolph’s Big Short screenplay that’s the star of the show here. It’s clever without being high-brow. It’s funny without being silly. It’s emotional without being pandering. And it stands as a biting indictment on the sort of greed and shady business dealings that we seem all too eager to revisit these days. One can’t help but gasp as Steve Carell’s character quips, “I have a feeling in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.” Pick up a paper my friends. Memorable moments and unforgettable lines like that earned McKay and Randolph an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards.
Of course, it helps that they had an insanely talented cast saying those lines. Carell, Gosling, Bale, Pitt. There’s more than a little Awards-level talent on that list. That cast brings their A-game and then some to the table. And A-games were required to bring the film’s shady anti-heroes out of the dark corners of America’s economic downturn. Make no mistake, the central characters in The Big Short are not heroes. They’re business men. And they are out to make money just like the deplorable bankers in charge of the financial institutions that almost bankrupted this country. But the slippery moral and ethical slope that propels the action throughout The Big Short finds those characters more often on the right side of things than anywhere else. That can be a challenging prospect for viewers who may find themselves rooting for Carell and Bale and the rest. After all, those characters can only succeed if the country spirals into economic end times. We all know how that went down. And that’s what makes The Big Short such a compelling bit of cinema. McKay and Randolph understand that there really were no good guys in the mix. Just a handful of people who were a little better intentioned than the rest. And who did what they could to make people aware of a tragedy that began long before we ever recognized it. If nothing else, The Big Short is a film about awareness. Awareness of what has happened. And awareness that it’s already happening again. But will we ever heed the warning?
You bet. Clever, inventive, and superbly acted, The Big Short is a film with a lot of big ideas. Big ideas delivered in a way that even those with no knowledge of the financial crisis can follow the action. And they may even have a few laughs in the process. While the film is far from perfect – it’s a bit heavy-handed at times and about 15 minutes too long – The Big Short is absolutely worth that dollar this week. And for a buck, you owe it to yourself to watch this film. Just make sure to take all that money you save on this rental and put it someplace safe. Like a jar under your house. Or a piggy bank. ‘Cause things could get dicey again sooner than you think.