It’s taken so long to get round to writing this post that I’d almost forgotten seeing The Big Short. The film deals with the financial crash of 2008, and particularly with three groups who saw it coming and set up to make money when the crash happened.
Though entertainingly and wittily told, this is an uncomfortable story. On the one hand, in true cinematic fashion, these are our protagonists, the “heroes” of the story, and we root for them to succeed – they’re mavericks, swimming against the tide of the corporate mindset and perceived wisdom, and who doesn’t like that kind of story? But that success is measured in their personal gains of millions of dollars as a result of the collapse of the housing market, the real-life impact of which is on the real lives of the homeowners whose houses were repossessed when they couldn’t keep up interest payments on mortgages which shouldn’t have been given in the first place.
The film does make this point at one stage, through Brad Pitt’s character, but that feels like a bolted on slice of morality. We are cheering for the outsiders in the movie, the “little guys”, but that’s relative – we’re not being encouraged to think about the real “little guy” who doesn’t figure in the story but who has no chance of coming out on top.
It’s an interesting film, though, which has a good stab at explaining the complexities of the financial instruments created by the industry and why they were bound to fail, and makes that point in a more engaging way than a documentary would have done. This is partly down to the characteristic style of Michael Lewis’s original book – Lewis tells stories of individuals to illustrate the larger picture, and though I’ve never come out of one of his finance books feeling like I fully understood the subject, I always feel better informed than when I started.
The performances are engaging, particularly from Steve Carrell and Christian Bale, and (so far as I can remember) I came out thinking it was a couple of hours well spent.