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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'The Big Short', the real ship of fools

The Big Short

The Big Short’ is one of these rare occasions when, after watching a movie, you go looking for the book and, let’s admit, the film beats it (probably because Michael Lewis’ work, despite being absorbing and dynamic, demands a very high level of concentration and knowledge of banking, financial products and American economy). Praise director Adam McKay’s ability to build a film that doesn’t hide the complexities and dramatic consequences of its subject. It has plenty of information, dense yet important information. But manages to remain engaging, enjoyable, thoughtful and, at times, truly vibrant. I left the theater wanting to talk about it: about Ryan Gosling breaking the “fourth wall” and being obnoxious, but also about how the most absurd and blatant fraud ever made by capitalism, out of any control, provoked a global economic disaster based on incompetence, greed and stupidity. But it's worse than that. After all the mess caused, we are still worshipping the market, like fanatics believing on a God with their feet completed covered on blood and mud (how appropriate, right?). Obedient lambs in our way to the slaughterhouse...

The Big Short’ tells the story of how the market crumbled down in the US in 2008, causing the major breakdown worldwide, whose consequences we are still facing. But McKay is not interested on a documentary deep on analysis, facts and figures. No, he wants way more than that. He wants a movie of vital pace that entertains while explains you how we got robbed (never forget, it wasn’t a crisis but a gigantic scam). And he delivers, thanks to a script that takes it time to descript sub-prime loans, CODs and other vile financial products, but through the actions and challenges their main characters have while the movie develops. And, when it’s needed, requesting a pretty surprising yet simple and effective resource: pop culture, meaning celebrities. Speaking directly to the audience, detailing economic aspects our regular persona might not be interested to listen to (it’s really complicated & boring) but that a famous star can make understandable and even cool. Brilliant.

But make no mistake, behind all its lush, state-of-the-art surface perfect for Millennials and people who can only watch series, ‘The Big Short’ encompasses all the rage, the hypocrisy and pathetism the story demands. Through the groups of traders who discovered that the housing market, specifically their loans, major pillar of American economy (Spanish too) were actually a bunch of utter crap in the form of repackaged bad loans that, thanks to the freedom of Wall Street, the big sharks’ of the banks and the agency ratings (a true mafia), were about to ruin us all. As they did. And, McKay points out clearly, could very well do that again...

The road to perdition, a real one, is developed here in a poliedric way, so the puzzle shows the most complete picture. Here’s the pioneer, the ultra-freak aka genius Michael Burry (performed by Christian Bale, in my opinion the most dubious performance, too heavy on mannerisms, too 'weirdo' to entirely believe is a real person, as Burry is), the first wager against sub-prime loans, and the guy who discovered the housing marked was built on trash while managing awkwardly his hedge fund. Here’s the trader who detects Burry shocking bet against the “most solid marked in the country”, a posh asshole named Jared Vennett (based on Greg Lippman, and smoothly, easily played by Ryan Gosling, by far the funniest & caricaturesque character of the film, but also including a poignant dose of merciless realism), also in charge to interact directly with the viewers about how unstoppable, but foremost completely dumb, was the whole financial system. Here’s the one Vennett tries to get money from, Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman and played by Steve Carell who, in my opinion, deserved an Oscar nomination and becomes the real presence of the film, a character so personally damaged and enraged it hurts, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t suffer from a heart attack while he swallows his bile and keeps his educated manners). A troubled person that knows corruption rules the world and joins the seemingly crazy path Vennett is offering him… because he wants to believe him. He wants to be right about his pessimistic look at life… Until he realizes he was right, but the disaster was even bigger than he ever imagined. And there’s a fourth inter-linked story, probably the weakest one (one of the few flaws of the film), about two young entrepreneurs on finances (played by Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) who, almost by pure chance, also discover Vennett’s plan (then we are allowed to know that’s all fiction) and, with the help of a retired trader tremendously critic on Wall Street (very restrained and solid Brad Pitt), get into it.

The film is full of memorable moments (the aforementioned with famous faces making simple explanations of CDOs and “creative finances”) but the best are the ones that, behind the smile or the laugh, also show the cruel, depressing consequences of such a demented and despicable system, as well as highlighting that our “heroes” are far from being nothing more than a group of smart hypocrites. Baum and his colleagues interviewing a couple of over-the-top, insufferable hotshot traders bragging (that’s the key word) about how they worked with the people with lowest incomes. Baum and Co. talking with Standard & Poor's on how the ratings were still so high, despite the economy indexes falling. Brad Pitt reminding his young pals what the banks accepting their “bet” against the housing market means if they are right for the people. The ship of fools. Real fools. The tragedy behind the farce. We should praise movies that are brave enough to talk about the times seriously while taking risks trying to adapt to the times. And, of course, we should never forget. For our own good. Or next time we will have a fascist billionaire running for U.S. president. Oh, wait...

SCORE: 7,5

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