Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Big Short

If, like me, you plod along thinking that the Western world is not too bad really, mistakes are made but our leaders try their best, The Big Short is a film you need to see. Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis, it tells the story of the so-called Great Financial Crisis, mainly from the point of view of the few people astute enough to recognise that the prosperity that preceded the crisis was based on nothing more substantial than hope and rampant greed.

The film makers do make the assumption that all viewers will already know what a bond is - embarrassingly, I didn't, and still don't quite grasp it. Apart from that one instance though,  all specialist financial terminology - CDOs, sub-prime et cetera - is explained with such clarity that even dummies like me can faintly grasp what the hell these phrases mean. I wasn't particularly keen on the use of a blonde in a bubble bath to tell us about 'sub-prime' but Anthony Bourdain managed, with some old fish as props, to make CDOs troublingly clear.

What makes the film so terrific though is the performances. There is Christian Bale being brilliant. There is Steve Carell being brilliant. There is Brad Pitt being brilliant. There is Ryan Gosling being brilliant. And there are numerous other names unknown to me being equally brilliant. If there is one good thing that the film reminds you of it is that we are living in an absolute golden age of American male movie actors.

The Big Short manages to take an apparently rather dry subject and make it both entertaining and elucidating. The only problem is that it also makes you - well me at least - absolutely furious. Not only was no-one prosecuted for the dangerous banking habits they got into due to extreme greed; not only were the ratings agencies never driven to the wall because of their essential fraudulence; not only was no person in a position of responsibility made to atone for their incompetence or to return, so far as I could tell, a cent of the absurdly enormous salaries they received - which were justified purely on the grounds that they reflected the onerous nature of the responsibility those paid them had taken on, overseeing and steering a ship of finance of immense magnitude, so that it did not land on the rocks; not only did all these things not happen but - far more appalling - governments handed over taxpayers' money to those decadent individuals and institutions who'd created the crisis, bailing  them out and then demanding that the people who provided the bail-out money through their own hard work accept drastic cuts in every service you can think of to pay off the great big rich bastards' party bill.

This is one of the best films I've seen in ages. I recommend that anyone and everyone should go. Stay for the credits, in which it is explained that CDOs, renamed, are once more being hawked around on Wall Street and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the cleverest man in the film is concentrating his investing entirely on investments related to water. Make of that what you will.

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