“THE BIG SHORT” My rating: B+
130 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Everybody loves to see the little guy take on a giant.
But what if in rooting for the little guy we’re also advocating our own destruction?
In Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” a handful of high-finance outsiders and weirdos smell something fishy in the pre-2008 sub prime housing market. They decide to beat the corrupt financial establishment at its own game.
Viewers of McKay’s ‘s grimly amusing comedy (he’s best known for lightweight Will Ferrell vehicles) will find themselves in a dilemma. For the story’s heroes to emerge triumphant the American and world economies will have to tank. Millions will lose their homes, their savings and their jobs.
But, hey, that’s capitalism. Somebody always wins. Somebody always loses. And making money off the other guy’s misery is the American way.
The screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph (adapting Michael Lewis nonfiction best seller The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) begins in 2005 with Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the oddball manager of a California-based hedge fund. Possessor of a medical degree and virtually no people skills, Burry prefers to hold his conversations with numbers.
Burry pads around the office barefoot and in cutoffs and has one glass eye — but he sees enough to recognize that the sub-prime housing market is destined to collapse. Banks have been giving home loans to people who shouldn’t qualify and are destined to default; those bad loans are then bundled and resold, building “worth” where there is no value.
So Burry offers the big Wall Street firms a deal they can’t refuse. He has them create for him a financial instrument — the credit default swap — that will pay off only if the market collapses. The heavy players are only too happy to oblige…they can’t imagine the bubble bursting.
Burry is considered a madman by most, but to a handful of fund managers he makes real sense. One is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who is as slick and gung ho as Burry is dweebish (think Matthew McConaughey in “The Wolf of Wall Street” ). But numbers don’t lie and Vennett gets on board.