Volume 17.4 – FILM REVIEW: The Big Short

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Film Review – Michael Hodson

The Big Short 2015
Paramount, Director Adam McKay

The Big Short has been nominated for 5 BAFTA and 5 Academy Awards, winning the Oscar for the best adapted screen play. But why has the film been released this year given it’s based on the best-seller by Michael Lewis published in 2010? Certainly the subject matter seems to have lost none of its appeal. At the early evening performance I attended shortly after the film was released the cinema was very nearly full; and I was told the later performance was sold out. The mystery is why a film about the causes of the Great Recession of 2008 should be so popular seven and a half years after the event. Has this to do with the depth of the Great Recession, as the aftermath of the 2008 events are now called, its length and the tentative nature of the economic recovery? Or has it to do with an enduring sense of institutionalised wrong?

The Big Short makes the Great Recession upfront and personal. Like the book the film is about the ‘weirdos’ who bet that the price of US mortgage bonds would collapse. In other words they foresaw the Great Recession years before it happened. The film sets out their motivations, frustrations, sense of injustice and agonising decision making as they began to realise the consequences of the recession they were about to precipitate. Through the stories of these ‘weirdos’ and the bankers who accepted their bet the film sets out to explain how the financial contagion not only began but how it spread.

We’re told that bankers like to make things seem complicated because then we’ll understand why only they know what’s going on. So the film uses some novel means to explain and make sure we understand what the various financial instruments mean. Margot Robbie (recall Neighbours) plays a dumb blonde in a bubble bath, sipping champagne explaining the meaning of a ‘subprime mortgage bond.’ American chef Anthony Bourdain compares collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) to using three-day old fish to make stew and to sell it as a fresh dish. Selena Gomez and Professor Richard Thaler at the black jack table explain that synthetic CDOs are a form of betting. They also explain how the value of the synthetics exceed the value of the mortgages by…

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