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Greed rules in The Big Short

Film & TV

The Big Short is a film about getting rich but it is not a rag-to-riches, only-in-America story that encourages audiences to believe anyone can make it.

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Instead, it reveals how major banks in America got very greedy in lending money to tenants who would inevitably default on their home loans ­ – a practice that ultimately caused the global financial crisis.

The major players in the film are men who realised the catastrophe was coming while leading financiers were in denial, and were able to invest in insurance against a financial failure.

The Big Short poses the question: If these men were able to see the shortcomings of the scheme, why couldn’t those in charge? The answer, of course, is that they knew exactly what they were doing and that if they lost everything, the US Government would have to rescue them.

Steve Carrell plays Mark Baum, the investment man who realises the big bank’s mistakes and how he can profit from them, but who also has a conscience. The actor is excellent, convincingly portraying the concerned, unconventional financial investor worried about the global implications of the fall of the dreadful subprime real estate scams.

Christian Bale is also very good as the somewhat anti-social, non-conforming Michael Burry, who predicts the fall of the banks well before it happens; incredibly, his company is able to invest in insurance in the likelihood of a collapse occurring.

In all major disasters – whether it is a world war or global financial collapse ­- someone makes a profit; someone wins, regardless of the incredible losses suffered by average citizens. Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett, another financial player who aims to profit from the losses of others, while Brad Pitt, in a smaller role, is Ben Rickert, a one-time wiz-kid in finance who is lured back into the game by two young investors. Pitt presents a salient reminder to the excited youngsters who are to become super-rich overnight that their gain comes because others have lost their homes and their jobs.

Directed by Adam McKay and based on a book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short  has a strong cast and presents in an accessible way the events that led to the global financial disaster. Occasionally it is quirky in its pseudo-documentary filming technique, while comic relief is provided through cuts to a non-financial types, such as pop star Selena Gomez, explaining an aspect of mortgage lending or hedge funds.

Cocky young men are shown bragging about how wealthy they are becoming, even though they know they are in a scheme that cannot be sustained and is probably illegal, only to be humbled and shocked when their world of luxury is turned upside down.

The Big Short is not about the major players in the sub-prime real-estate scam that caused financial collapses around the world; instead, it is the story of men who realised what was happening and were able to profit through the misfortune of others.

The point is made that those responsible have yet to be brought to justice and, most importantly, that they did what they did knowing that the American Government would have to bail them out. Were the billions of dollars in government assistance used to assist those who suffered most, or did they help the banks and the bankers to stay afloat and to maintain their lifestyles?

The Big Short is entertaining, well-scripted and very well acted. It is a thought-provoking film that poses questions about the nature of large corporations and how they can avoid the rule of law.

We are also asked to consider the blinding nature of greed, which puts making money and striving for more possessions before compassion and the welfare of others.


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