For the uninitiated - and the still confused – subprime mortgage loans were sold to the unsuspecting masses as supposedly solid, trustworthy securities. As millions of homeless people would later attest – this just ain’t so.
In this true tale, the destabilisation of subprime loans was spotted early by Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) - and it took a special kind of vision to see it coming. Bale gives us an insight into a character that, through a football injury, has been made to feel like an outsider. This special position, at the side-lines of the American dream, fine-tunes Burry to see alternative outcomes – and like all socially inept savants before him – bet large.
But the bright lights of Las Vegas this ain’t (for the most part). The disruption of the mundane is populated by men in grey suits with bad haircuts, off-key jokes and an average understanding of ethics –make no mistake, even when they are betting against their beloved American economy, they are only in it to make lots of money. The mechanics of life are oftentimes unlikable.
Enter the anti-heroes that like to march to the beat of their own drum. Whether it’s Christian Bale’s (almost amusing heavy metal solo), or Steve Carrell taking a mobile phone call in the middle of a professional conference; be warned - they might be weird, they might be impolite, but never underestimate the value of the misfit – they just might know what they’re talking about.
The mercenary nature of The Big Short is counterbalanced with our affection for its well-established cast of Hollywood icons to include Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling. Although any semblance of their masculine glamour has been stripped back, this rendering of the nerds-next-door is all part of a subtle ongoing joke. Shadows of the buddy movie and the man gang can, at times, be clearly felt. McKay’s previous directorial work has included Anchorman, Step Brothers and The Other Guys. The nature of the content does sometimes dictate tighter constraints on the comedy here - even though for McKay there is always an impulse towards making a joke.
Gosling assures us, venomously as one point, that he wouldn’t be seen dead amongst this crowd – he has ‘fashion friends’. The glitterati are seldom seen, however, unless McKay has included them in one of his explanatory interludes that punctate the film. In order to offset the uncertainty of the narrative (and its factual workings), mortgage-backed securities are intermittently explained by strippers, or via cameos from the latest glamour puss of note. Not even Margot Robbie’s bubble bath can detract from the complexity of the issue, or the consequences; and this juxtaposition well delineates that point.
Small town wife, or small town stripper (with a surprising portfolio of multiple investments) – this economic disaster levelled the playing field amongst all of those affected. The widespread economic devastation makes the contents of individual lives begin to feel incidental – not least to the greedy. To temper this Brad Pitt’s character Ben Rickert provides his young protégées with a reminder that this isn’t just about numbers – even if it feels like that while you’re doing the maths.
Success, like the economy, is sometimes measured by the numbers. McKay’s offering is up for an impressive 10 top-tier nominations across both the Baftas and the Oscars. It remains to be seen whether this one will trend or crash. In the meantime, bet high, come down to FACT and decide for yourself. Should these other guys still be afraid of the true Hollywood outsider - the big bad Wolf of Wall Street?
Want to see what really happened for yourself? Book tickets for The Big Short at FACT.