Through the Looking Glass: Why you should see “The Big Short”

The Big ShortSure, go see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It’s great, especially in 3D.

Then (or, But first) go see “The Big Short,” starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Steve Carell in an astonishing dramatic performance you’d hardly have guessed possible from his days on The Daily Show. It ranked 7th at the box office this weekend but 2nd on Rotten Tomatoes‘ list of the best viewer-rated movies (87% against Star Wars’ 94%) and scored 8.9 out of 10 from viewers on Metacritic.

“The Big Short” tells the story of the 2008 housing and financial market meltdown told as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” seen through the eyes of several Alices — independent investors who, to quote author Michael Lewis, “had always sort of assumed that there was some grown-up in charge of the financial system whom they had never met; now they saw there was not.”

“Adapted from Michael Lewis’ bestselling book ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,’ McKay’s film traces the roots of the global market collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming and figured out ways to profit from it,” according to Variety’s reviewer.

None of them are heroes. “I never said I was the hero of this story,” Gosling’s character, a narrator of sorts, tells the movie audience as he fondles a check for $47 million he earned for his part in “shorting” (betting against) the housing market.

And yet they’re strangely sympathetic characters; from the outset they’re incredulous that no one on Wall Street sees the housing calamity coming, disgusted by the fraud and incompetence they encounter, and in the end many of them (especially Carell) are horrified by what they themselves have done. But the movie doesn’t make excuses for them.

By turns serious and funny, sometimes both at once (like a scene featuring Selena Gomez explaining ‘synthetic collateralized debt obligations’ at a Las Vegas blackjack table), the film offers a gentle but firm reminder we all need — as the country rounds the corner into presidential primary season — about who really led this country and the world into an economic collapse that cost 8 million Americans their jobs and 6 million their homes, and wiped out trillions of dollars in personal and retirement savings. In the end, Wall Street got bailed out and public employees got blamed.

In short, all Americans paid for it — except for those who were actually guilty. They made millions.

Variety: “Adam McKay’s financial-crisis comedy turns a dense economics lecture into a hyper-caffeinated postmodern farce.”

Of all the current century’s most cataclysmic world-historical events, the 2008 financial crisis is probably among the most poorly understood. Filmmakers looking to rectify this have already approached the story from a number of angles, … but the route taken by “The Big Short” is by far the most radical, turning a dense economics lecture into a hyper-caffeinated postmodern farce, a spinach smoothie skillfully disguised as junk food. …

In the pic’s most viciously surreal sequence, Baum (Carell) and company travel to Florida to see firsthand some of the mortgages that are threatening to go belly-up, finding cul-de-sacs full of abandoned houses, highly motivated McMansion sellers, and a pair of meatheaded mortgage consultants who chuckle over writing six-figure home loans for buyers with no income or down payment. Baum steps aside and consults with one of his agents. “Why are they confessing?” he asks, confused. “They’re not,” comes the reply. “They’re bragging.”

MSNBC: “Director Adam McKay talks with Chris Hayes about his movie on the global financial crisis, ‘The Big Short.'” (video)

Washington Post: “Steven Pearlstein reviews ‘The Big Short’ by Michael Lewis”

If you read only one book about the causes of the recent financial crisis, let it be Michael Lewis’s, “The Big Short.”

NY Times Book Review: “Investors Who Foresaw the Meltdown”

Mr. Lewis does a nimble job of using his subjects’ stories to explicate the greed, idiocies and hypocrisies of a system notably lacking in grown-up supervision, a system filled with firms that “disdained the need for government regulation in good times” but “insisted on being rescued by government in bad times.”

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About Randy Lyman

SEIU Local 1021 Communications Dept.

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