Road To The Oscars – The Big Short

The Big Short
Director:Adam McKay
Screenplay: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei

*Contains spoilers*

It’s 2005 and New York hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Bale) discovers the massive instability of the US housing market, due to high risk, subprime loans. He pedicts the market will collapse in 2007, and realises he can profit from this instability by doing a credit default swap where the seller of the CDS will compensate the buyer of it if the loan defaults – he is essentially betting against the housing market. Trader Jared Vennett (Gosling) and hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Carrell) become aware of Burry’s predictions and activities and decide to take advantage of the unstable housing market as well, and along the way discover that collaterised debt obligations (CDOs) made up of poor loans that are packaged together are also going to contribute to the housing market collapse. Alongside these traders and hedge fund managers, two young investors accidentally discover a paper by Vennett and try to get involved in the credit default swaps. However, they lack the financial credentials and capital to participate, and have to enlist the help of their neighbour, retired banker Ben Rickert (Pitt). Baum and his team, as well as Rickert and his young investors go to an industry forum in Las Vegas to further research how corrupt the industry of subprime, high risk loans really is, and Baum realises that the entire American economy is on the verge of collapse because of the corruption.

Why this might win Best Picture
It’s a snappy, quick-witted story that doesn’t talk down to its audience, but also knows when to stop and explain something so they can keep up, using the gimmick of celebrity cutaways like Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain to explain the financial jargon being used, or Vennett talking either directly to the audience or narrating over the top of scenes to fill in the backstory. The protagonists, whose arcs run side-by-side without meeting up at any point, are all portraying characters with attitudes that vary from extreme greed to remorse create an interesting narrative about the ethics of the people in the financial industry. Burry is the loner oddball, whose smarts and forward thinking frustrate his employer as he breezily asserts dire predictions with wonder and amazement at his discovery. Baum’s moral compass darts around nervously just under the surface as he grapples with his desire to profit from the demise of the economy and being a part of the monster that ends up destroying lives, Vennett is a slick, smooth talking salesman who sees no issue with jumping in to take advantage of other people’s mistakes, and Rickert is disgusted at his young investor friends’ gleeful attitude at the amount of money they’re going to make while betting against the economy. While the film could have been made as a drama, leaning heavily on the ethical ramifications of what the bankers did, using comedy and gimmicks to tell a story that both intrigues and appals audiences is a stroke of genius. It’s easy to to smirk along wtih Vennett as he realises how much money he’s going to make, and to feel as sickened as Baum as he delves deeper and deeper into the world of loan approval corruption and unqualified mortgage brokers. The cinematography employs both the use of quick movement and longer range shots, to make the audience feel as though they’re watching from a distance along with the supporting cast as everyone speeds towards this inevitable financial car crash that no one can stop and everyone wants to be a part of, giving this film a reckless, riveting atmosphere from start to finish.

Why this might not win Best Picture
There’s not a lot to criticise here. I think The Big Short is one of the stronger contenders of the eight nominees, and with a strong story, indomitable characters, and a very tight script I think voters will be swayed to consider voting for this. My main gripe (besides the fact that I had to google a LOT of stuff after this film to properly understand exactly what it was they were doing), is that the film focuses so much on the lead up to the crash that it feels as though it takes about 90% of the film to get there. I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the aftermath, rather than end notes on each character before the credits rolled. But I suppose once you get into that territory that’s almost a whole other film. Still, I felt unsettled coming out of the film and not knowing more of the repurcussions of their actions. Yes, I could google it, but I wanted to see it as part of the storytelling of the film. On the other hand, I feel like the point of the film’s end was to make the audience unsettled, After all, they note that CDOs are now being created again, just pacackaged up under a different name, which was horrifying to read, and so maybe the point was to leave feeling unsettled by what could possibly happen (again) in the future. Leaving a film with that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach is quite the achievement for the filmmakers.

Have you seen The Big Short? I’d love to know what you think!

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