Distributed by Paramount Pictures and Nominated for Five Academy Awards, including Best Picture The Big Short is a film that is a catalyst for cynicism, especially for those who don’t trust financiers.
It is all about events taking place 2007-2008 on Wall Street in New York, which had a roll on effect leading to the meltdown of the financial market that had repercussions globally.
The Big Short is up for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role Christian Bale, Best Director, Film Editing, Writing (Adapted Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay).
Ryan Gosling is the principal narrator, guiding the viewer through the maze of facts and the totally unbelievable events that impacted on the end result.
Along with fellow actors Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, Gosling lends gravitas to proceedings.
They seem entirely unethical and in some scenes, filled with unintelligent behaviour.
Due to the sterling performances by a wonderful ensemble cast of actors, viewers will face their own feelings; discomfort, distress, shock, anger, perhaps even admiration?
The world of finance in Wall Street, New York at this time was mostly male, with only a small spattering of women with balls, endeavouring to deal with the full on amount of testosterone spilling daily on the trading floor.
In every office adrenaline rushes were heightened by alcoholic lunches, cans of Red Bull and high sugar drinks, with processed foods adding to the mix creating the manic atmosphere they all seemed to thrive on.
It was a case of everything in excess.
Financial journalist Michael Lewis, who specialises in being a non-fiction author, based his narrative for his book The Big Short on the true story behind the crisis, events he observed; the ever-growing trading losses being suffered by the big banks on Wall Street in 2007.
It’s no surprise to me it became #1 New York Times bestselling book, millions were looking for explanations and he was in a unique position to solve the mystery surrounding events.
Most it seems were involved in what can only be interpreted as giant fraud.
If you take on board this movie’s message after you have seen it you will more than likely never trust a bank of any type of financier again.
Lewis stated he was intrigued that the meltdown in progress at the time when he was alerted, could be traced back to just a handful or people identified as just fifteen in all.
He was amazed when he discovered they were all willing to talk to him and tell him ‘their stories’.
At the heart of events was a small group of fund managers, who recognised that the subprime, or loans to borrowers with poor credit aspect of the housing bubble, had caused it to be fraudulently inflated.
Taking a risk they made billions of dollars betting against the bubble before it burst, a process called ‘shorting’ in the financial world.
In the stupidity of the self absorbed totally narcissistic environment financiers inhabited, at least based on this story, the only very real and necessary characteristic for a potential employee to gain a highly paid job in the industry was an ability to talk ‘bulls%#t’.
It was also a bonus if they did not have any scruples or morals at all, as well as a heightened ability to NOT care about anyone else. If they ticked all these boxes they would be hired.
In America a bond originally was a promise, from a government or corporation, to make regular interest payments on borrowed money, paying back the borrowed principal over time.
For generations financial markets traded bonds.
During the 1980’s trader Lew Ranieri invented the mortgage-backed security, which packaged together boring low-yield mortgage loans into high-yield bonds, a much cooler investment opportunity.
When the original bonds were set up the contents were designed to be all blue chip mortgages. All rated A, AA or AAA they were taken out by those in the higher paid eschelons of life.
Over the years however as institutions grew rapidly, with some becoming corrupt from the inside out, the mix changed dramatically without too many noticing. B, the lowest rating on the scale, alongside BB and BBB took over to become predominant in the mix, with just the odd AAA, AA or A among them.
This meant the loans had a higher risk of failure if people defaulted.
When the banks also started to trade the lower rated or sub prime aspects of individual bonds, the waters become very murky indeed.
The difficulty Michael Lewis noted, was working out how he could easily explain how this pyramidal pile built up in the first place, and then how it collapsed into being just a heap of excrement, destroying the lives of millions of people.
The marker to do so was his mother; he wanted her to understand what had happened and why so many people had committed suicide, lost their homes, their livelihoods and-or their families.
Having blonde bombshell Margot Robbie sitting seductively in a bubble bath sipping champagne will be sure to gain a predominantly male audience’s attention and approval, as she explains some aspects of what is going down with great alacrity.
For the ladies, well Ryan Gosling certainly works well as eye candy.
The story starts with Michael Burry aka Christian Bale as a very smart, one-eyed genius and visionary in charge of a large trust fund for a big company.
Burry is not an easy character for his disparate group of employees or us to like, locked in his office wearing headphones and playing his drums to hard metal music.
Early on he recognises pointers that enable him to put in place a series of special contracts to short sell the mortgage bonds using all the capital of the company whose trust fund he manages.
Then all he has to do is wait long enough for the huge bubble in the market to burst.
In the meantime however he needs his resolve to survive the vitriol of fellow executives and the anger of investors.
If he is proved right though they will all be able to ride off into the sunset when the bubble bursts as they literally make billions of dollars, which they eventually do.
A paper he presented about his findings finds its way onto a coffee table where two younger hopefuls Porter Collins (Hamish Linlater) and Danny Moses (Rafe Spall) who are worth only 30 million, not enough to be in the big league, are endeavouring to expand their business.
They ask a market legend played by Brad Pitt to help them so that they can get in on The Big Short action.
Steve Carrall as Mark Baum a money manager, together with his team of associates, also get in on the action. They enact most of the research into the whole financial scene guaranteed to terrify us all, before committing to betting against subprime mortgages.
It is hard when you are watching The Big Short, not to be alarmed at the level of corruption and arrogance Michael Lewis found embedded in the business world.
The top fifteen players all bet directly against the biggest banks, reputedly filled with the smartest people.
Mark Baum discovered that executives were not only living louche lifestyles at everyone else’s expense, but also because of their monumental arrogance did not really have their eye on how well their system was working.
There was certainly no morality attached to their way of doing business and there is no happy ending to this story and no punishment for the crime of indifference for those at the apex of the pyramid.
With a bevvy of boys behaving badly, the scary thought The Big Short leaves you with is that it may well just happen again if we don’t learn from the past to invent the future.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016