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“The Big Short”: movie review by Ron Wells

December 29, 2015

The Big Short, Adam McKay’s film based on Michael Lewis’s book, is a fantastic companion piece to Charles Ferguson’s documentary, Inside Job, with the difference being that McKay’s film takes a look at the few men who saw the 2007-2008 collapse coming. Amazingly, McKay has found a way to take a very humorous approach as he follows this fascinatingly small group of men who decide to bet big on the eventual fall of the housing market and all of the shenanigans put forth by the big banks, Wall Street, and even the government.  What these men could not have imagined in the beginning was that the collapse would nearly take down the economy of the entire world.

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The Big Short’s often humorous approach works because the audience is being educated along the way into the devious machinations used to produce a bubble of epic proportions.

 

Once again we have a brilliant ensemble cast that includes Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt among many others who draw you into the lives of these real-life people who are sure they are on to something. We see the bankers and Wall Street “geniuses” who have allowed this bubble to form, but it’s the guys on the other side who are waiting for the bubble to go “POP” that the film focuses on. Carell (Mark Baum) and Bale (Michael Burry) are especially noteworthy as two intense, brilliant, but sometimes tortured souls who know they are on to something big.

 

McKay uses very unorthodox methods in the making of this film. The fourth wall is broken down as Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) talks directly to the audience. Hand held cameras are the norm and quick cuts keep the movie moving rapidly, almost like the buying and selling that goes on in Wall Street. CDO’s (Credit Default Obligations) are explained by a chef who compares it using old fish for future dinner dishes. Synthetic CDO’s are explained by Selena Gomez while sitting at a Black Jack table. All of this is very, very funny, until you realize you don’t quite get it and, if you do get it, perhaps it’s not all that funny.

 

Ultimately, none of this makes any sense, which correlates nicely to what the banks are counting on. They don’t want the general public to understand any of this. Not even the bankers  can explain what they are doing, except for making millions if not billions of dollars. Everyone acts as if their explanations make sense, when, of course, none of it does.

 

But you can make sense out of this: the guys betting on the collapse will make a lot of money too. Yet when they see what this actually means, their joy collapses as well. They were right. Now the country, if not the world, is in the toilet.

Eight million people lost their jobs. Six million people lost their homes. And those figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Only one person went to jail for his part in this mess. The big banks were not broken up.

 

The Big Short is a fast paced, hard hitting, and extremely entertaining movie. It’s funny, educational, and contains a warning. Of course, the warning will not be taken to heart by those in power. As pointed out in the film, CDOs have been given a new name. The banks are already tearing down the restrictions placed on them after the 2008 collapse, for they know the taxpayers will always bail them out.

As The Big Short so brilliantly explains, the poor and immigrants will be  blamed for everything bad in the country, while Wall Street goes merrily along its often corrupt ways.

Now that’s funny. There’s lots of funny parts in this great movie. Until they’re not.

Review by guest blogger Ron Wells.

From Rolling StoneThe last line of the movie, printed on a placard, is “Michael Burry is focusing all of his trading on one commodity: Water.” It sounds very ominous. Can you describe this position to me?
Fundamentally, I started looking at investments in water about 15 years ago. Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not — water is political, and litigious. Transporting water is impractical for both political and physical reasons, so buying up water rights did not make a lot of sense to me, unless I was pursuing a greater fool theory of investment — which was not my intention. What became clear to me is that food is the way to invest in water. That is, grow food in water-rich areas and transport it for sale in water-poor areas. This is the method for redistributing water that is least contentious, and ultimately it can be profitable, which will ensure that this redistribution is sustainable. A bottle of wine takes over 400 bottles of water to produce — the water embedded in food is what I found interesting.

Rolling Stone also asked: What makes you most nervous about the future?
Debt. The idea that growth will remedy our debts is so addictive for politicians, but the citizens end up paying the price. The public sector has really stepped up as a consumer of debt. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is leveraged 77:1. Like I said, the absurdity, it just befuddles me.

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