This week sees the DVD release of The Big Short, a blackly comic tale of the real-life experts who made a killing from the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008.
The film takes us back to the pre-crash days and the socially awkward hedge-fund manager Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale. In 2005 Burry realises that the US housing market is rotten, over-inflated and set to collapse. He knows that there’s money to be made from the collapse.
By betting against the housing market Burrey knows he can win big while the rest of the economy loses. It isn’t long until a select few others get wind of his idea and join in on the action. From big-talking trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), to constantly angry Wall Street hedge fund boss Mark Baum (Steve Carell).
This group of outsiders see the chance to capitalise on a financial system which has been corrupted by greedy establishment bankers and their fraudulent practices. As the stakes are raised it’s only a matter of time before their gamble pays off.
Taking on the financial crisis as the topic of a comedy was a bold move by director Adam McKay, for a couple of reasons. The complexities of the financial system and its collapse are painfully complex, and the fallout from the event was just painful. Excruciatingly so.
McKay deals with the first of these issues by introducing celebrity interludes to explain some of the more complex aspects of what’s going on in the film – and it works quite well. The second issue is a bit harder to reconcile.
The collapse of the banking industry destroyed countless jobs and lives worldwide. We’re still paying for the greed of the bankers and although they are portrayed as villains here, are the protagonists really that much better? They’re just as greedy, profiting from the catastrophic event.
However, these are questions which don’t detract too much from the entertainment that the film delivers. The Big Short remains an enjoyable and funny trip through a deeply significant moment of our economic system.