Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Big Short (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Big Short

In what might seem like financial porn, given the unbridled greed that many of the characters display combined with cameos of Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) and pop star Selena Gomez, comic director Adam McKay offers a free wheeling and disturbing expose of the housing bubble which devastated millions in 2008.

"The Big Short" based on the book by Michael Lewis (Moneyball) is one part tragedy and one part comedy, yet all of it is compelling.

Christian Bale is Dr. Michael Burry, a neurologist turned investor who studies trades compulsively while listening to heavy metal. One day, he pores over his monitor and discovers that the numbers just don't add up. There are stacks and stacks of mortgages layered one row on top of the other and many are risky. They are knotted together. Some loans look fine but a good many are too volatile with scant cohesion. Burry senses something sneaky and decides to bet against the bankers. All the while, the doctor's guts are boiling over; he gobbles antacid like M&Ms.

There is also the wolfish Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who gets wind of Burry's discovery and wants in as well. A chain reaction forms. Steve Carell has a good turn as the hyperactive and sensitive investor Mark Baum who lost his brother to suicide and  is wracked with guilt.  Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) arrives on the scene too, mostly to give advice. Rickert, a  banker, is convinced of The American Nightmare and is resolved to move off the grid with organic vegetables and seeds.

While every actor is solid here, the film is clearly held together by Christian Bale who is nearly invisible as a Hollywood persona and has morphed into this obsessive yet distant man with Aspergers.

The tone of the film is wry and pointed and there is much here that will make one angry, as sharkish loan officer frat boys gloat and brag over how much cash they have made in targeting the naive and unaware with subprime housing mortages.

This film, like others in the genre does not gloss or breeze over the malignancy of arrogance and unbridled avarice. And yet there are generous portions of comedy here as Margot Robbie explains the definition of subprime in a tub and chef Anthony Bourdain tells us that CDOs (junk mortages) are similar to making a seafood stew with three day old halibut that stinks to hell.

Laughter can sting.

What comes across most of all in "The Big Short" is its record of a pestilental epidemic of selfishness and money where morality all but disapears.  The new creators are no longer painters, poets and inventors but money accruers who collect megalomanic sums at the expense of others. Consumption transforms into an offensive and confrontational art.

What monetary maggots might be born anew to prey upon us? This question suggested at the end of the film is perhaps the most unsettling of all.

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